A year in the life of Eric Bergoust, Olympic gold medalist
2-14-99, Benedryl, Spain
Eric Bergoust, aerial freestyle
Sorry this has to be so public, in the hometown paper and such. That's the life of Eric Bergoust right now. I used to keep my own journal, but don't make time for that any more. Now I just keep the stories they write about me.
This one's from Spain, where I'm taking a week off with three other freestylers. We call the place Benedryl - that's a nasal spray, right? It sounds something like that. We'll probably spend some time on Ibiza, an island in the Mediterranean. I might go up to Barcelona and see my brother, Danny, and his new Spanish wife. They moved here a couple of months ago, but it's about a four-hour drive from here, so I don't know.
Come Wednesday, it'll be a year since the gold medal in Nagano.
A double, full, full on my second jump and there it was - four years of taking stairs one step at a time, of always wearing a seat belt, of changing my life in countless ways, all come together with a world record at the Olympics.
"He knew his place on the podium was secure and fell to his knees with his face in his hands," a Japanese reporter wrote in my "journal" that day from the hill above Iizuna Kogen.
When I looked up, the world had changed.
The first thing I did back in the states was go to New York City, to go on Letterman. I went to the Grammys. I was on Regis and Kathy Lee. I saw the Blue Man Group … ever hear of them? They're freaky. Then I went to Las Vegas and hung out at a ski show there, a convention thingy. Went to Los Angeles for an afternoon. I got to party with Run DMC. That's a rap group. Went home to Missoula and the parade, and that was cool. Then I went back on tour.
I had three or four competitions after the Olympics and jumped better than I ever have in my life. It was the best time of my life. I probably enjoyed that more than the Olympics. I was jumping like I'd only dreamed about. What really makes me most happy and most sad is jumping.
Definitely the highlight of the past year was competition day at Heavenly Ski Resort, near San Francisco. It was a Bumps and Jumps competition in March, I guess, and Heavenly was just perfect. The weather was perfect. The temperature, the snow, the kicker, the landing - all perfect. I couldn't miss. The jumps I was doing, triple flips with quad twists, felt like single flips. It felt like jumping off the curb and doing a 360. Even easier.
The feeling that day makes what I'm trying to do now really difficult. I'm not afraid, but there is a chance I may never jump that well again. I want to do a "quint" on snow - five full twists among three forward flips.
Such a thing has never been landed successfully. The technique is so different I've got to change everything I did in the "quads" that won the gold. I'm twisting as fast as I can to just get in four twists. I can say right now there's a 15 percent chance I'll do a quint next winter, and a 50 percent chance I'll do it the winter after. If I don't do it by then, I may never do it.
I'm really just trying to get as good as I can get before the end of my career. Two-thousand-two in Salt Lake is not a focus like Nagano was.
I spent a month in the mountains of Washington. I usually go there in the springtime. A friend of mine has a ramp set up in his back yard at Ravensdale, near Issaquah. It's nice to be alone, and although my coach and whatnot wouldn't recommend it, I jumped on my own into a lake. At Park City (Utah), you usually have two or three EMTs, safety people, standing by. But it's pretty safe at Ravensdale. I was just doing doubles.
It's kind of back to my roots there. I stay in a trailer, eat cornflakes and peanut butter sandwiches. It's nice and peaceful. After the Olympics I was talking for about two months straight, and it was really nice to get some privacy.
I moved to Park City in June because I do so much traveling and it's so hard to go in and out of Missoula. You've got to go to Salt Lake anyway. But it was mainly because Park City has the best
training facilities in the United States.
It's the first time I've actually paid rent for a place for any period of time. It's a house I share with three other guys, all of them skiers. It works out OK, but it's hard for me to be as disciplined an athlete as I hope to be because they're not disciplined athletes, they're regular guys. My weakness is I'm lazy, I don't work out enough, I don't get enough sleep. So that part is bad.
I want to buy a house. I hate paying rent. I was there two days in December, three days in January and I haven't been there yet in February. I bought a house my sister had in Polson, my dad designed it, and I want to get another in Park City. The thing is, the same house in Polson costs four times as much in Park City. I can afford it, I just can't get myself to do it.
Over all, I'm not real happy with the way I handled this year. It was an experimental year anyway, and I did learn a lot, but I didn't really improve much. I was supposed to be working on changing a lot of things, kind of breaking my technique down to basics. I was supposed to not worry about results. But every time I get close to competition, I've started wanting to win, so I throw out the basics and try to do the hard tricks. I ended up not getting either done. I wasn't winning and I didn't make a lot of concrete changes.
I just had a World Cup competition in Altenmarkt, Austria. I crashed in training in the semifinals and got whiplashed. I did well enough in the semifinals and made it into the top 10, but then the neck was acting up and I was too sore to jump.
The World Cup tour is over now, and I think I finished fifth in the Grand Prix standings. At the beginning of the season I would have been happy with that, and it's fine. I don't really care. In a couple of weeks there's the World Championships and it's more important anyway. It's every two years, and it's a very important competition. It's in Meiringen, Switzerland. I've been to Meiringen twice before, and both times I've won. It's a brown-sugar site, usually real warm. I always jump better in slush, probably because it's easier to land in. If you don't have to concentrate on landing, you can concentrate more on form.
The gold medal hasn't made me rich. I make more than archery, less than figure skating. Most of what I make is from results. A lot of my sponsors give me a flat rate, and then incentives for getting on the podium, and there's the prize money at the World Cup events also. A guy from Belarus - Dmitri Dashchinsky, the bronze medalist at Nagano - won in Steamboat Springs, Colo., a couple of weeks ago, but he doesn't have many sponsors and he made about five grand. If you have good sponsors and good past results, you can make $20,000 or more.
I try not to think about the money. I negotiate my contracts, try to get as much as I can, sign them, put them in my file and forget about it. I don't ever want to jump for money.
I was dealing with an agent for the first time this year, starting before the gold medal. It was pretty simple before the medal. He didn't have much to do. After the medal I was trying to see if we worked well together, and if I agreed how he went about things. His priority was getting me as much money as he could. My priority was to get good training in, not to keep smiling for the camera all the time. That's not why I'm jumping.
We parted ways about a week ago. Maybe I can find somebody better. If not, I'll just do it myself.
The gold medal is in a safe deposit box in Park City, Utah. I don't carry it with me any more. At first I put it in my pocket and figured that was the safest place for it. Pretty soon four months had gone by and it had been in my front pocket the whole time.
I carried it because I was seeing a lot of friends, and the reaction people have when they see it, no matter who they are … they're surprised and amazed at how beautiful it is, how cool it is. It's fun to show people and have them appreciate it. It also gets me into places. A friend took me to a club in New York and had me show it to them. They
said, "Come on in." I used it a lot for a few months, got a lot of 2-for-1s.
I go into the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics store and I'm just going to buy some stuff. One of them recognizes me and asks me about the medal, and I show it to him. They give me so much stuff it's unreal. I think I came out of there with 400 bucks worth of sweatshirts, T-shirts, pins, hats.
It's weird. Other people work just as hard at doing something they love and nobody ever cares. I guess it's cool people in sports are acknowledged for doing well in so many ways, but I feel so often it's not fair. My life is so good, and the only reason it is is because I decided to do something I loved and something I have a great time doing.
As I get older (29 now) I really miss having a girlfriend or someone important like that around me all the time. I was around my family for a long time, but now the people on the tour are my family. That's nice. We have a good time. I'm in Spain with Jerri Grosse, Joe Pack and Brian Currutt. We get along well, we all like the same things, have the same sense of humor. But as far as a personal life goes and relationships go … I'm starting to like little kids a lot, seeing my nieces and nephews. My sister Debbie has a son and daughter, my brother Todd has a daughter and Danny has a son.
The biggest thing that has changed this year is everything is so much more complicated. I have to make important decisions that are going to affect me the rest of my life, pretty much, because one thing leads to another. Some of it is decision-making with sponsors, what I'm trying to do, how I'm going to shape my career, which is going to be another three to five years probably. Maybe six.
The biggest thing is I've had to grow up, had to be responsible. I'm trying to feel my way through it, because I've never won a gold medal before. I never thought about winning it, didn't even think about what comes next. I didn't really have a plan. From the time I landed that second jump, I've had so many things I wanted to get done, but I haven't taken the time.
I could have been doing five other things this week. I could have been at Big Mountain in Whitefish training; at The Canyons in Utah doing promotions; at Killington, Vt., for a Bud Aerial Assault, or in Europe at a Lucky Strike show. Or I could have been training in Canada or Austria. All of those were options up until less than a week ago. That's what it's been like since winning the medal, trying to figure out what's best.
What's good for the sport is really important to me. I don't count getting as much as I can for myself as something that's really significant. I want to do real things, like finding better ways to jump, building better jumps, getting kids into the sport. Those are the things I think I'll look back on when I'm done.
Monday - 2/15/99