KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The backslapped landing on her double backflip with three twists was the last Olympic jump for American Emily Cook.
Her eighth-place finish at Friday night’s women’s aerials contest was her highest in three Olympics. A fitting end to an 18-year career.
“I’m definitely (feeling) a whole lot of emotions. The biggest emotion is happiness. It’s been an incredible career,” said the 34-year-old from Massachusetts who finished 11th in the 2010 Winter Olympics. “It’s been so many ups and downs, and honestly, it’s been no stone left unturned. I don’t think there’s anything else I could have done and I’m proud of my career and happy to move on to a new adventure."
Cook did not appear distraught or even sad. The ex-gymnast has jumped in aerials since 1995, earning eight World Cup podiums and five National Championship wins.
“It’s always been an adventure, these last 20 years,” she said.
Cook advanced through qualifiers and the first round of the three-round finals Friday night. She laid back on the landing of her back full double full — two backflips, the first with a single twist and the second with two twists — and did not advance to the four-skier super final.
“I did absolutely everything I could to be my best and sometimes people just jump better than you,” Cook said.
Maybe it was a stoic face she was putting on for reporters, but Cook did pause when asked about her good friend Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, the three-time Olympian and silver medalist in the 2010 Winter Olympics who took his life in a remote canyon in Utah in July 2011.
“He would have been bummed I didn’t hit the second jump,” Cook said. “He’s with me. He’s here. I’m positive of that. My mission is to carry on what he started. To continue on with his legacy. To continue to have conversations about mental health … conversations about depression. To get people the help they need.”
Cook said she would remain in aerials in part because of the influence of Peterson.
“He taught us how to be a team and I’m going to teach the younger athletes how to do that, too,” she said. “Man, our future is so good in our sport. These kids are so good at 16, 17 years old and Speedy was too and look at what he did.”
Cook has lessons she can impart. She was poised to compete in the 2002 Winter Games but broke her ankle weeks before the contest. She’s matured a lot since then, steadily improving throughout her career. In a rare Winter Olympic sport where athletes tend to improve as they age, Cook hopes to enable the younger athletes coming up the ranks to become the best American aerialists ever.
“I’m definitely going to stay involved with the sport. I’m so excited to watch these kids grow up and start jumping at World Cups and going to their first Olympics,” she said. “I fully intend on being at the next Olympics. I don’t know … where I’ll be. But I’m not walking away from this sport by any means.”
That’s good news for Ashley Caldwell, the 20-year-old Virginian whose huge trick in Friday night’s qualifiers scored the highest of the night, revealing her potential to push U.S. aerials to new heights. Caldwell crashed in the first round of finals but quickly started forming plans for the next four years of training as she eyes the 2018 Winter Olympics.
She said having Cook around in some capacity will help her and the U.S. team grow.
“She’s not going to disappear. She loves aerials and she’s going to fight for us and support our sport and make sure we get what we need,” Caldwell said.