Editor's note: This is the eighth in a series of articles looking back on the 2002 Winter Games in conjunction with the event's 10-year anniversary.
SALT LAKE CITY — In the lobby of the lodge at Deer Valley there are images that transport Emily Cook's heart to Feb. 16, 2002. Her Olympic career was just beginning and she was full of youthful optimism and exuberance.
Then just 22, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in aerials about six weeks before Deer Valley hosted the 2002 freestyle events when she won the Gold Cup. But a few weeks later she broke her feet while training for a competition in Lake Placid.
Coaches decided to give her spot to another promising aerialist, Jeret "Speedy" Peterson. He made sure she was part of the competition by writing "Hi, Emily" on the palms of his gloves. He flashed them at her — and television cameras — as he made his way through the crowds that sunny afternoon.
"It was bittersweet," said Cook, now 32 and still competing. "Looking back, to be quite honest, I'm not sure I was prepared to be the best in the world then. I was young, fairly inexperienced. I'd been on the podium the year before, and I thought I was on top of the world."
She said she learned more from watching her teammates compete than if she'd been able to compete with them.
"I think it would have been a great learning experience," said Cook. "I learned more from not participating than I would from actually participating."
And if she'd won? "I probably would have continued, but I don't think I would be here now. It's one thing that keeps me in. I'm so very positive that I am a way better jumper than what I have shown."
She went on to make the 2006 and 2010 Olympic teams and said she's training for 2014 right now.
She loves the sport as much as she ever has.
"I love breaking down the jumps, love watching video, love trying to figure out how to twist faster, the more technical aspects," she said. "And I see the sport going in that direction."
Her memories of 2002 are more emotional on this 10th anniversary because Peterson took his own life this summer. His mother gave Cook the gloves he wore, along with a picture of the two taken in 2006, which she has framed at her house.
She was at Deer Valley when USSA officials honored Peterson by naming the lift that takes aerialists to the top of the kickers "The Hurricane." It was the jump Peterson landed in the 2010 Games that earned him a silver medal.
"I've never been at Deer Valley without him," said Cook of Peterson. "We all miss him a lot. … It's hard not having him on the hill, but at the same time, I feel a responsibility to pass on all of those amazing qualities to all of the athletes."
And now she knows she must do for him what he did for her 10 years ago today.
"I have done my fair share of mourning and grieving, but I will get it together on the hill. I know how to hear his voice in my head and use it to my advantage. I will do what he's always done for me," she said. "He was jumping for me."
EMAIL: [email protected]