Brash Worthington has form to flip over WINTER OLYMPICS


LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- From the people who brought you roller derby on ice (short track speed skating) and pothole jumping on snow (mogul skiing) comes another in the growing collection of Winter Olympic trash sports:

Anyone ready for diving off mountains?

This is the sport of freestyle aerial skiing, the only Olympic discipline that should come with a warning label: Do not attempt any of this at home, dudes.

"Hey, if the crowd thinks this is crazy, then, I'll just leave it at that," said Trace Worthington, best in America and best in the world. "It would look crazy to me if I didn't do it, too. Hey, auto racing is crazy to me. This is just new and people are starting to learn about it. I am not going to try and clarify our insanity to anybody."

Worthington is the sport's first official star. And despite sustaining a knee injury last month, he is among the favorites to win the gold.

At 24, he has two World Cup titles on his resume, and a bountiful supply of confidence in his background.

Ask him about winning the gold and he responds: "There is no way I'm going to give it up. That sounds very confident. But my dream is to back my words. I have a feeling it's going to go my way."

He is probably right. Worthington is going to be one of those made-for-television stars. Good looks. Great athlete. Spectacular sport.

Besides, CBS-TV has to fill up 120 hours of air time with something other than biathlon.

In aerial skiing, there is the requisite rock 'n' roll blaring in the background, the multi-colored outfits and the flights of fancy that would give a trapeze artist nightmares.

The skiers come hurtling down a slope at 35 mph, toss themselves 55 feet in the air and perform a few aerial tricks in 3 1/2 seconds.

And then land.

On snow.

What separates Worthington from the rest of the world is this: Three back flips. Four twists. And a perfect landing. Every time.

"It looks like a guy up in the air, lost in space, flipping and twisting," he said. "It's unbelievable. It's really spectacular."

OK, so humble, he's not.

But Worthington's attitude fits the sport. The same guys who hot-dog on the slopes and fly off 15-foot ledges of ice are invariably attracted to aerials.

Worthington stepped right out of a Colorado high school and right on the World Cup circuit six years ago and has not looked back. Sure, he'd like to go to college someday. But . . .

"I guess I missed a good time at college," he said. "But that's all I missed. I don't regret anything. That's not the lifestyle I want to live."

He is a man who likes the road. European competitions in the winter. Training in Park City, Utah, in the summer. But don't be misled by his attitude. Worthington works hard, perfecting his tricks for four months by diving into a pool of water.

"I had to stop saying, 'Let's throw a big air, dude,' " he said. "You have to really think about what you're doing. And you have to train for this, full time."

The training has made him into the sport's best leaper. At 5 feet 10, 165 pounds, he is light enough yet strong enough to take the pounding of the landings.

Just keep him away from trampolines.

Before tearing a right knee ligament on a training run last month, Worthington sustained his only serious injury at the beginning of the 1993 season when he separated his shoulder during a trampoline exhibition in Albany, N.Y.

The U.S. coaches were not amused.

"But I still love going on the trampolines," he said.

Freestyle skiing is fun. But there is a lot more money to be made giving pro trampoline demonstrations.

"We don't get a lot of respect in aerials, but we should," he said. "When people see this sport, they like it."

At these Olympics, the world will catch a glimpse of Worthington. He is ready, he said, to cope with the pressure of being a medal favorite. Six years of competing and training will come down to two jumps and some seven seconds of air time.

Some would be nervous. Not Worthington. He's already looking ahead . . . to the 1998 Winter Olympics.

"How does two gold medals sound?" he said.

Not bad at all, dude.

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