The air up there

Aerialists St. Onge, Cook wow Howelsen Hill crowd

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— Ryan St. Onge had the home hill advantage.

Before a crowd of thousands, with snow lightly falling from the sky above Howelsen Hill, St. Onge became Steamboat Springs' newest Winter Olympian with his win in the men's aerial competition at the 2006 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Belmont, Mass., resident, Emily Cook won the woman's title.

A graduate of The Lowell Whiteman School, St. Onge wowed the hometown crowd, landing a pair of quad-twisting, triple summersault jumps to score an impressive 240.93 points.

"The crowd was so loud," St. Onge said. "I couldn't hear anything but them."

Heading into his final jump, St. Onge knew all he had to do was land it cleanly, and he was going to Turin, Italy.

He stomped it, threw his arms in the air and began a wild celebration at the Howelsen Hill base. Jeret Peterson, of Boise, Idaho, was a distant second with 197.56 points. Joe Pack, the 2002 Olympic silver medalist who lives in Park City, Utah, was third, with 195.96 points.

"This win ranks up there," said St. Onge, who also has three World Cup victories to his credit. "Knowing for sure you are going to the Olympics."

But St. Onge added that he isn't satisfied with making it to the 2006 Olympics.

"Now, I have to train to win that," he said.

Cook, on the other hand, seemed so appreciative of the chance to make her second Olympics team. Joined by family and friends, many of whom were crying, Cook had every reason to give up her sport four years ago.

Just two weeks after winning the 2002 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, she broke both her feet, and graciously gave her spot to Peterson.

"I watched the last Olympics from a wheelchair," Cook said. "There was no question I would come back."

She began competing in January 2005 and is returning to her 2002 form. On Friday, she landed a double twisting, double flip full-full and a single twisting, single flip lay-full.

"Now that I've qualified, I can relax and train the jumps I'm doing at the Olympics," she said. "I lowered my degree of difficulty here."

Cook was the only female competitor to land both her jumps cleanly Friday night. Montrose's Kate Reed placed second with 154.39 points. Lacy Schnoor of Draper, Utah, was third, with 146.74 points.

The remaining men and women on the U.S. Freestyle Team will be announced Jan. 25.

Jana Lindsey, a native of South Dakota, was injured during Friday's competition. She landed hard on her second jump and was taken from Howelsen Hill to Yampa Valley Medical Center. U.S. Ski Team Medical Director Melinda Roalstad said Lindsey suffered a concussion and will be kept overnight for observation.

NBC will be broadcasting Friday's events at 12:30 p.m. today. Coverage will include Friday's moguls and aerials competitions.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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