Four Americans qualified for Wednesday night's freestyle skiing mogul finals at the Sauze d'Oulx venue, but there would not be a golden finish for any of them, including Steamboat Springs' Travis Mayer.
Mayer, who won the silver medal in moguls in Salt Lake City four years ago, qualified for the finals with the seventh-best score. In the finals, he nailed a 720 off-axis jump on the top air and a straight 720 on the bottom while ripping down the course in 22.63 seconds. But he made a couple of mistakes in his turns, and the judges noticed. Mayer finished with a score of 24.91 and sat briefly on the podium before getting knocked off by teammate Toby Dawson's bronze-medal-winning run.
"I maybe landed, pointed a little to the left and a couple turns were a little funny," Mayer said. "I think they crucified me for it."
Mayer was one of four Americans in the finals, but Vail's Dawson was the only skier wearing red, white and blue on the podium. Dawson qualified sixth and threw a 720 mute-grab off the top air and a cork 720 on the bottom jump to move into second place with five skiers left. The only two skiers to score better than Dawson were gold medalist Dale Begg-Smith of Australia and Mikko Ronkanien of Finland. Begg-Smith won the qualifying round and skied cleanly in his final run to earn gold.
"Dale skied a really good run. It was clean, nothing too crazy, and when you qualify in first place, you get the benefit of the doubt," Mayer said.
Other Americans making it to the finals but failing to land on the podium were Jeremy Bloom, who finished sixth with 25.17 points, and Travis Cabral, who finished 10th with 24.38 points.
Dawson finished behind Bloom and Mayer at the U.S. Ski Team Trials held in Steamboat at the end of December. But for Dawson, the trials were not that important.
"I wanted to peak at the Olympics," Dawson said. "I wasn't planning on winning the qualifier, because I knew that would be a really tough competition."
But it wasn't an American stealing the show in the 2006 Olympic men's mogul competition. It was an Australian.
Begg-Smith's gold medal was his first Olympic title. Begg-Smith also leads the World Cup moguls standings. The Australian netted 26.77 points on a nearly flawless second run to earn the gold. Mikko Ronkanien, who finished eighth in Salt Lake City, also had a strong second run, scoring 26.62 points to set the standard for most of the final. Ronkanien qualified 13th for the finals but saved his best run for last under the lights in Sauze d'Oulx.
For Mayer, the 2006 Winter Olympics were the final competition of his freestyle skiing career. But he wasn't disappointed after the event, saying that, on the whole, it was the best skiing he's ever seen.
"It's how I wanted it to be," Mayer said about his final run. "It was a good run. Winning here isn't that important -- it's about how I wanted it to be."