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All or nothing for U.S. aerialist

He will wake up this morning knowing he failed. And, for Jeret Peterson, that is but a minor inconvenience.

For he would rather live with one morning of disappointment than a lifetime of regret.

You see, the man they call Speedy had a choice to make Thursday evening. He could follow the crowd, or he could be true to himself. Because in his world, there are really no in-betweens.

Peterson was in third place after the first round of aerials freestyle skiing. Play it safe on his second jump and he would probably have an Olympic medal of some hue. Keep it simple and you might have seen him yukking it up this morning with Katie and Matt.

Yet Peterson chose to bet it all.

And he busted.

"I don't care where I would have ended up, I would have walked away disappointed with myself," Peterson said when asked if he might have finished higher if he had been more conservative. "That's what the Olympics are all about: going for it and being the best."

You would think in a sport such as aerials - where skiers hit a ramp at 45 mph and perform flips and spins 55 feet in the air - there would be no fear.

You would think every competitor a daredevil, and every moment a chance to push the envelope.

Except on this mountain, in these Olympics, the other contenders pulled in the reins. Of the top five skiers after the first round, four declined to attempt a more difficult maneuver on their second jump.

Only Peterson went for broke.

He attempted a spinning, flipping, hair-raising stunt he calls the Hurricane. While every other trick attempted by the field had degrees of difficulty ranging from 4.05 to 4.65, the Hurricane was a 4.90.

It is three flips and five twists, including a triple-twist sequence that had never been attempted in the Olympics.

Want to know what it feels like? Peterson says to roll on the ground three times, jump up and spin around five times and do it all in 3.2 seconds.

And what happens when you don't land it?

"Oh, you land every time," Peterson said, laughing. "Unfortunately."

He got the idea for the move after watching Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic do five twists in his gold-medal performance at Salt Lake City.

The Hurricane is a variation of Valenta's move, except instead of doing two doubles and one single, Peterson does a triple and two singles.

He had tried it twice in competition, landing on one ski once and crashing horribly the other time.

The move is spectacular. It is breathtaking. And it could have made Peterson a star had he not used his right hand for support on his landing. The slip dropped him from third to seventh.

"It was good. He wasn't that far off," USA coach Jeff Wintersteen said. "If he could have left his feet just a little bit behind him, he would have stuck it and he'd probably be an Olympic champion."

Peterson, 24, would joke about it later. With his right hand touching the ground, he lifted his left hand in the air to fool the judges.

"But they got me," he said, smiling.

This is the beauty of reaching for the stars. Even if you fall short, there is no shame in the attempt.

For Peterson, it is the pattern of a lifetime.

This is a guy who went to Las Vegas with $5,000 in his pocket that he'd saved from his job in the paint department at Home Depot. By the time he'd left the blackjack tables, Peterson had cleared better than $200,000.

This is also a guy who took in a friend who'd been struggling with drug abuse and other demons. Peterson allowed him to stay in his Park City, Utah, home while attempting to put his life together. When Peterson came home one afternoon, his friend had a gun to his head. Without a word, with Peterson watching, he committed suicide.

Life has had a way of pushing Peterson around. And perhaps that is why he is so willing to push back.

"My past is what has made me the person I am today," Peterson said. "It's built my character. I don't regret anything that's happened to me in my life. Everything happens for a reason."

Peterson was molested as a child, a secret he kept hidden until he was a man. He has not revealed the name of the abuser and does not often talk of the circumstances. But a few years ago he spoke to a group of children affiliated with the Idaho Advocacy Program. He wanted, he said, to make them understand they were not at fault. That they were the victims.

It was a lesson he said he had struggled with for years, and it contributed to his feelings of anger and alienation as a child.

He also lived through the death of his sister, who was killed by a drunken driver when Peterson was 5.

"I've definitely not been given the silver spoon," Peterson said, "but I love the hand that I've been dealt."

He can look at it no other way.

For Peterson, there is no in-between.

No regrets.

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