Winter Olympics: Cobbing endures letdown after poor take-off: British aerial freestyle skier's medal hopes disappear with error

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The Independent Online
RICHARD Cobbing's hopes of becoming the first Briton to win an Olympic skiing medal since 1936, raised by his efficient qualification for the aerial freestyle final, came to naught here yesterday. Or rather, to 10th.

The 27-year-old former world trampoline champion from Lightwater in Surrey, whose preparations have been hampered by a shoulder injury, was relying on form and consistency rather than incredibly tricky jumps. But a poor take-off on the second of his two efforts, a triple twisting triple back somersault with a tariff value of 4.050 that was lower than many others' leaps, effectively put him out of contention. The event was eventually won by Andreas Schonbachler, of Switzerland.

It was a painful experience for the Briton, who won a silver medal at the World Championships last March. In the last of his six practice jumps off the 'kickers', which send the competitors up into a 40-foot drop on to a steep, snowy slope he bashed his knees into his chin upon landing and broke one of his top molars.

'It was a bit sore on the nerve in this cold air,' Cobbing said with a wry smile. He had taken a couple of painkillers before the competition, but nothing to cause any potential difficulty in a medallist's dope test. 'I felt a little surprised after the first jump, because I expected higher marks,' he said. 'I knew I was really high, I held my form and had a reasonable landing. I didn't touch down with my arms. But it always seems different for a competitor to what the judges see.

'I knew then that I had to pull out something special for the second jump, but I fractionally mistimed the take-off which meant I had to adjust in mid-air, and as a result I put my hand down when I landed.'

And, as a result of that, he scored 94.36, an aggregate of marks for take-off, form in the air and landing multiplied by the degree of difficulty of the jump. Added to his earlier mark of 102.2 for a simpler jump better accomplished, he totalled 196.58, more than 25 points off the bronze medal position.

Aerial freestyle skiing has a glamorous image. It is Martini country. Rock music plays, clean-cut protagonists catapault through extraordinary gyrations before touching down in a flurry of snow and punching the air with satisfaction.

But the glamorous scenario fell suddenly apart on the second set of jumps when Jean-Marc Bacquin, of France, landed on his back with a thump that could be heard quite distinctly through the music - which, as it happened, was 'Ache-y Break-y Heart' by Billy Ray Cyrus. The jumpers do not choose their own music.

First aiders and stretcher bearers were quickly beside the prone Frenchman; thankfully, he was soon on his feet and was able to alk cautiously from the scene. It was nevertheless a reminder of the potential dangers of the sport.

Deborah Compagnoni capped her comeback from the knee injury suffered in a fall during the Albertville Games by winning her second Olympic gold medal, in the giant slalom here yesterday, writes Bill Scott from Lillehammer. The Italian, who has a tortured medical history, won by a margin of 1.22sec from Martina Ertl, of Germany. Switzerland's Vreni Schneider, who won two gold medals at the Calgary Games six years ago, was third. Compagnoni missed Calgary in 1988 with a knee injury, hurt the same knee 18 months later, suffered a twisted intestine in 1990 that almost proved fatal, and severely damaged her knee two years ago.