Extended Bio – Written in 2000
“Live life with the passion of an artist.” It’s not often you hear an athlete talk this way. But then again, defending Olympic and World Champion Eric Bergoust is no ordinary athlete! Since the tender age of 13 he’s now 31 – Eric has dedicated himself to becoming the best freestyle aerialist the world has ever known with a zeal, a passion, rare in any sport. Think of wide receiver Jerry Rice running extra wind sprints after practice. Or Michael Jordan staying late to shoot jump shot after jump shot. That’s the kind of athlete Eric Bergoust is – the kind who, in the inaugural Winter Goodwill Games this year, stepped up to a more difficult second jump rather than take the sure bet. His quadruple-twisting, triple somersault with two twists on the first flip gave him a 247.86 score – and the GOLD MEDAL!
As a child, Eric spent hours jumping off the chimney at his family’s house in Missoula, Montana, onto a pile of bed springs. He flipped off fences that corralled their horses. He hid a collapsible snow shovel under a bulky parka… skied out of bounds at a local ski area… built his own jumps and practiced innumerable single flips with twists and double flips with a couple of equally “crazy” buddies. One time, the double front flip inadvertently became a 2-1/2, and Eric “arrowed” into the snow, spraining his neck. But ~ remained undeterred. Imagine (if you can) speeding at 50 miles per hour into a jump that is 70-degrees steep, and hurling yourself 60 feet into the air, where you complete several revolutions before landing (you hope) on your skis.
That is what the world’s finest aerialists do day after day. There’s precious little margin for error. At the first Olympic aerials competition, held at the Calgary Games in 1988, Eric arrived at the venue 7 hours early to make absolutely certain he got a great seat. At night, he slept behind the jumps in a field. The competitors were “movie stars” to him, and he was determined to follow in their footsteps.
In 1988, after graduating from high school, Eric converted his regular skis to aerial skis by sawing twenty centimeters off of the tails and used money he saved from cleaning his Dad’s office and busing tables at a local restaurant to buy a $500 car, a tent, and a portable cooking stove. He then set out cross-country for the aerials training center at Lake Placid, New York. Eric arrived at Lake Placid with $10 cash in his pocket. He used it to buy Cornflakes, powdered milk, honey, bread, peanut butter, and jelly. That’s what he ate for a week (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) until he earned his first paycheck as a waiter.
Eric waited tables by night and jumped by day. Training at least four hours a day, five to six days a week, Eric took more jumps off Lake Placid’s water ramp than anyone had before. He jumped and jumped and jumped some more. By the end of the grueling summer, his hard work and natural talent paid off. Eric was “adopted” by U.S. Freestyle Team coaches and named to the U.S. Nor-Am team a step below the national team and World Cup competition.
While other athletes flew to Nor-Am competitions throughout the U.S. and Canada, Eric and a fellow aerialist drove his old Toyota. “We’d drive all night,” Eric remembers, “because it was warmer when the car was running.” As they drove, the pair snacked on deli meats they collected from banquets held at the conclusion of each event.
By the end of the 1988-89 season, Eric had won every Nor-Am event except one. There, he finished second. Eric’s remarkable record propelled him to the U.S. national team the following season. For the next four years, with the help of aerials coach Wayne Hilterbrand, Eric trained diligently to improve both the difficulty of his jumps and his technique. His results improved steadily until 1993.
That’s when Eric had a visionary moment, realizing that their was a “better way.” On what he still calls his “last real vacation,” Eric and his mentor Nick Bass (now coach of the talented Canadian aerials team) spent a picture-perfect beach day indoors.
“It was Nick’s birthday, April 22, 1993,” Eric recalls as if it were yesterday, “Nick wanted to watch video all day and go over a new technique that he had learned from Canadian trampoline coach, Dave Ross. It totally changed my perspective about how to jump.” The two figured it would take Eric three years to rid himself of old habits and re-learn his jumps. An unexpected injury turned the three years to four. But then, things began to click.
At a World Cup competition at Breckenridge, Colorado, in 1997 Eric had an average result but a mental breakthrough. “In the shower, after the event, I had another amazing moment,” Eric explains. “A moment that almost equaled winning the Olympics. Even though I was only ranked 10th in the world, I realized that no one out there had better skills or was more prepared to win than I was. I realized then and there that I could be the best.” The feeling wasn’t a fluke.
Over the next 48 months, Eric captured the gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and the World Championship gold medal in 1999 at Meiringen, Switzerland. His two Olympic jumps taken within hours of a frightening crash in practice that left him with severely bruised ribs remained the highest composite score ever recorded in aerials competition … until he beat his own world record with a score of 257.21 to win his TENTH World Cup and beat it again in August of 2000, when he won his 12th World Cup with a score of 260.98
But if you think Eric is content to rest on his laurels, please think again. He is only one of four aerialists in history to attempt a “quad” four flips with three twists.
“I love the sport and never want to stop,” Eric says, “It’s a little like a golf swing. You get obsessed with trying to perfect it. I still feel I have a lot of room for improvement.” When the time does come to retire, Eric sees himself coaching, helping younger athletes coax the most out of their talent.
“I’ve thought about trying something entirely new, but I’m afraid I’d miss aerials too much to step away completely.” “This sport can teach kids to believe in themselves … to follow their dreams and enjoy what they do each and every day. It can inspire them.”
Passion & Dedication
Eric Bergoust couldn’t afford to go to summer camps so he used to train by leaping off his chimney onto a pile of mattresses. At age 18 he and his brothers drove to Calgary to see Aerials make it’s debut as an Olympic demonstration event. He slept in a field behind the jumps and waited seven hours to be the first one through the gate. By spring time he had saved just enough to buy a $500 car, a tent and enough gas to get him to a summer aerial training facility in Lake Placid, NY 1500 miles away from his home in Montana. When he arrived, he only had $10 left but he got a job right away and lived off powdered milk, Corn Flakes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a week before he got his first paycheck. That summer he set a new standard for serious training and broke a record for doing the most jumps in one day.
Hard Work & Sacrifice
By the end of the summer, he earned a spot to compete on the North American Tour. To cover the expenses, he worked 13 hours a day for twenty-one days in a row that Fall. While other athletes flew, Bergoust drove to events from New York to Calgary, sleeping in his car and living off of food he collected at the weekly banquets. That season he won every event but one, where he finished second. He was named to the World Cup Team the following winter.
Perseverance & Patience
For the next five years Bergoust was considered to be a great summer jumper into the pool but someone who might never learn to land on snow. Refusing to give up, he spent those summers training harder than ever and waiting tables in the evenings to support himself. He missed the ’93 season with a knee injury. A back injury sidelined him for most of the ’95 season and shortly before the ’97 World Championships, which was to be held on the ’98 Olympic site, he shattered his collarbone into six pieces. Less than five weeks later, with a plate and eight screws holding his collar bone together, Bergoust finished 2nd at his first ever World Championship competition.
Success & Innovation
After winning Olympic Gold in ‘98 with a record score, Bergoust spent the first few weeks of spring training making alterations to his equipment, and technique using a small privately owned ramp to test his theories. He spent the evenings designing a new jump that was later built at Utah Olympic Park and eventually became the international standard.
Risk Taking & Confidence
When Bergoust showed up at the first team camp, no one thought the radical changes to his technique were a good idea, especially for someone at the top of his game. For the next year his results suffered but things started to click just in time for Bergoust to win the 1999 World Championships.
Risk Taking & Persistence
After winning Worlds in ’99 and The Goodwill Games in 2000, he was named World Cup Champion for the next two years in a row. In the 2002 games, he needed a near perfect score on his quad twist to take the gold after Ales Valenta from The Czech Republic landed a quint twist for the first time in the history of Aerial competition. Bergoust went for the gold and came up short but was admired for his “all or nothing” approach. He finished the season as World Cup Champion.
Persistence & Faith
Television Coverage / Advertisements
Nationwide Allstate TV commercial, Nationwide Olympics on NBC TV commercial, Regional (more than one state) Gateway TV commercial, Nationwide Gateway Radio commercial, Regional Chevy Trucks TV commercial, Regional UT Olympic Park TV commercial.
National Magazines: Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Snow Country, National Geographic, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated for kids, Ski, Skiing, Freeskier, Powder, ESPN, Target the Family, Montana, Twist, Olympian, US News and World Report, Ski Racing, Olympic Beat, The Inside Story
Regional Magazines: Salt Lake City, Horizon Air, Olympic Program, Welcome 2002
Nationwide Gateway Print Advertisement, Cover of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Crunch, Cover of over 20 million Nature Valley Granola Boxes, Full page USA Today Advertisement for the US Olympic Committee, Full page USA Today Article with photos, Half Page USA Today Article with photo on front page and front page of sports, Nation Wide Advertisement for 2002 US Olympic Team Catalog.
Every Major News Paper in the Country and lots of internet stories and advertisements.