February 5, 2006

Rebuilt Alisa on freestyle skiing gold hunt

By Mark Meadows

LONDON (Reuters) - Australia's Alisa Camplin is one of
several Olympic champions out to retain titles in freestyle
skiing in Turin but her rebuilt knee will be tested by Chinese
challengers in the women's aerials.

Camplin, who won the aerials gold medal in Salt Lake City
four years ago, recently returned to competition after
recovering from a radical knee reconstruction in which she
received a ligament from a dead donor.

She must battle on to keep her title with China's Xu
Nannan, aerials silver medallist in 1998 in Nagano, and
compatriots Li Nina and Guo Xinxin impressing in the World Cup
standings. China won its first Winter gold in speed skating
last time.

"We hope to achieve better results in snow events,
especially in free style skiing aerials and biathlon," Xiao
Tian, deputy director of China's State Administration of Sport,
told a recent news conference.


In the men's version of aerials, where competitors reach
jumps or "kickers" at speed and launch themselves into the air
to perform somersaults, 1998 Olympic champion Eric Bergoust is
an outside bet for a podium spot at the age of 36.

The American, dubbed "Weird Eric" and "Mad Scientist," was
favorite to retain his crown in Salt Lake City in 2002 but
ended up last in the final after a bad stumble on the landing
of his final jump.

In the much-changed moguls, where skiiers descend a slope
covered with bumps and must perform two jumps, 2002 gold
medallist Janne Lahtela of Finland heads for his fifth Winter
Games and is among the favourites with Australia's Dale

Jeremy Bloom leads the U.S. charge for medals in the moguls
at the Sauze d'Oulx venue, but the 23-year-old is also known
for his two years with Colorado University American Football
team and his desire to play in the NFL.

Norway's 2002 champion Kari Traa enters her fourth Olympics
in the women's moguls where Canada's Jennifer Heil is favorite.
Several freestyle finals will take place under floodlights.