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Nikki Stone Wins U.S. Aerials Title

March 29, 1998

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (AP) _ Olympic gold medalist Nikki Stone overcame an ailing back, 60-degree weather and soft snow conditions Saturday to win her fourth U.S. aerials title.

But Olympic men’s champion Eric Bergoust sputtered, and Matt Chojnacki collected his first overall U.S. Freestyle Championships crown.

``Yeah, my first title. Actually, it’s the first time I’ve landed two jumps at nationals,″ Chojnacki, another 1998 Olympian, said after receiving 235.97 points for the win the title.

Bergoust was silver medalist with 213.85 at Sugarloaf-USA resort.

``I haven’t been at nationals for three years, so I was a little skeptical coming in here, but it turned out all right,″ said Chojnacki, a native of Aurora, Colo., who lives and trains in Park City, Utah.

Bergoust, who jumps with his Olympic gold medal in a pocket of his uniform, led the first round by almost eight points. But he tried to outdo himself with his final jump, had problems on his landing that figured in the end of his two-year victory string.

``I forgot what my goal was going into this _ and that was to win,″ Bergoust said. ``I got the top and I thought, ‘This is your last competition jump for the year. I want to make this perfect.’

``So, I took a big step up and I thought, ‘This is gonna be perfect or I’m gonna crash,’ and that was so dumb. It was a mistake.″

Overnight winds threatened the third day of competition at Sugarloaf, melting the kickers which launch the skiers up to 60 feet over the snow.

But Bergoust, Chojnacki and a half-dozen other World Cup skiers were on the hill by 7 a.m., repairing the kickers so the contests could go on with only a 90-minute delay.

``It was like a hairdryer blowing on the jumps all night,″ Coach Wayne Hilterbrand said. ``When we got there, they were about three feet wide and about six feet tall, just sort of little nubs.″ Sodium nitrate was used to stabilize the snow as the workers reconstructed the jumps.

``I didn’t think we were jumping,″ said Stone, who breezed to her fourth U.S. championships but her first since 1995. She missed the ’96 championships with a back injury and was second a year ago at Sugarloaf.

Stone finished with 182.13 points. Kelly Hilliman was second with 145.13.

``I was nervous about my back,″ Stone said. ``It’s really been hurting me just to bend over. wanted to make sure it was holding up pretty strong ...

``It was definitely sticky. The hill was sticky and a lot of people has problems with that. It’s hard when you have to come out and go to a whole new site.

``I’m lucky I have that experience″ in dealing with tricky conditions.

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