Reaching new heights

Aerialists soar above crowds Friday at Steamboat Ski Area

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— On Friday, Lowell Whiteman graduate Ryan St. Onge celebrated his 20th birthday by soaring to his best World Cup finish ever.

His fourth-place finish at the Sprint Freestyle Grand Nationals aerial event led the American team and gave more than a dozen fans -- which were in attendance to wish him a happy birthday -- an excuse to go crazy.

Teammate Eric Bergoust finished third after the qualifying round but fell to eighth after the second round.

Americans Joe Pack finished in 11th and Jeret Peterson was 13th.

"This is my best day so far, but it definitely will not be for long," St. Onge said of his finish. "It would have been my first podium, but I was fortunate to be in fourth. There were a lot of good jumpers ahead of me that had higher scores to start out with."

However, the young American aerialist gave them a run in the final round by nailing a triple-twisting, triple-back flip (lay-double, full, full) to move into the top three with a handful of skiers left to go. St. Onge was then forced to wait and watch from the bottom as an elite group tried to nudge in front of him.

"I knew one of them was going to stick it and knock me out," St. Onge said. "Looking at the other competitors I just knew it was going to take something I've never done before. Fortunately I threw it down, but I just didn't have enough."

Russian Dmitri Arkhipov had a little more Friday as he moved to the top of the pack with a score of 259.43.

Belarus skier Alexei Grichin, who was the top jumper in the qualifying round, was second at 254.17 and Canadian Steve Omischl was third at 252.28.

St. Onge finished with 249.81 points and China's Sen Qiu was fifth at 242.86.

"I feel good, it's like I'm a world champion," Arkhipov said. "But if Grichin jumps double-full, full, full with his second jump, I think he wins today -- not me. Today my jumping was the best."

Sub-freezing temperatures greeted the World Cup skiers in the morning, but St. Onge said by the time they started jumping the cold was no longer a factor. The finals were held under clear blue skies and moderate temperatures.

"We just love jumping in the sun," St. Onge said. "That's our favorite thing."

Coming to Steamboat Springs might also be one of St. Onge's favorite things.

He graduated from Lowell Whiteman in 2001 and has spent plenty of time training and competing at the Park Smalley Freestyle complex.

"I've jumped on this hill a lot of times, but this is actually my first World Cup here in Steamboat. I was very excited to be at this level of competition in my hometown."

The Sprint Freestyle Grand Nationals will continue today when the men and women return to the Park Smalley Freestyle complex for the mogul event.

Qualifying will take place starting at 10 a.m. with finals scheduled for 1 p.m.

The moguls will be the final World Cup event of the week.

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