Originally created 02/10/02

Freestyler is also a free spirit



SALT LAKE CITY -- They looked like nice, neat young kids in their powder blue vests and white turtlenecks. They looked like the cast of Up with People, or a poster for the Young Republicans.

If they weren't his teammates on the U.S. freestyle skiing team, Jonny Moseley might have, like, hurled.

America's best-known, best-compensated freestyle skier, Moseley has never been comfortable with conformity. He showed up for his pre-Olympic press briefing in the uniform blue vest, all right, but added red sleeves to his ensemble. A blue T-shirt peeked out from where the turtleneck should have been. In his one concession to Olympic propriety, Moseley removed his red ball cap with the logo for Sprint, one of his corporate sponsors. A gray headband was substituted, but only after Moseley made sure his hat stayed in view of the cameras.

Then, after his teammates discussed their Olympic dreams and analyzed their medal chances, Jonny Moseley admitted that Olympic gold wasn't the driving force in his life right now.

Don't misunderstand. Moseley would love to add a second gold medal to the collection he started in Nagano when moguls skiing was first contested in the Olympics. It's just that, well, Moseley isn't a Material Guy, his lucrative endorsement deals notwithstanding.

"I really get bent when people start counting medals," he explained. "One gold medal is awesome; it's all I ever wanted. You don't set out as a kid saying, ŒMan, I really want two gold medals.' "

Especially if that quest comes at the expenses of his art.

Just as Kurt Cobain didn't play for the critics, Jonny Moseley doesn't ski for the judges. All they can do are score the two aerial tricks required on each moguls run, as well as his form in each run. Those two elements factor in with the time of the run to determine an athlete's score.

But an artist can't be scored, and Moseley is nothing if not a performance artist.

One of his favorite recent memories involves the time he nailed the Dinner Roll -- his latest trick; a turning, twisting "off-axis 720" that even he struggles to describe -- and the judges had no idea how to score it.

"The crowd erupted, then booed the judges," Moseley recalled, grinning at the prospect of being recognized by the only people who matter. "At that point, I walked away feeling as satisfied as if I'd won. I'd done something I'd set out to do."

If he wanted to, Moseley could toe the Olympic line, the straight one that runs through the moguls course and requires established jumps the judges understand. But what fun is that?

If he wanted to be like everyone else, Moseley would have stayed in the World Cup program in the four years following his Nagano victory. He could have done the same twists and spins as everyone else to the beat of the same Gen X music that is a staple of the freestyle skiing scene.

Like, that's going to happen.

"The strongest motivation for me has always been to create something new," Moseley said of implementing his new move -- one that may blow up in his face -- on the world stage of the Olympics.

"There's a whole sort of revolution going on in skiing, and I wanted to get involved in that," he added. "That's why I walked away from moguls for awhile. I wanted to stay loose in my skiing, do what I wanted to do instead of just staying with the Olympic program."

Yes, Moseley wants to win this week. But like Sinatra from another generation, he has to do it his way.

"I don't want to walk around the rest of my life telling people I did this real cool trick, but they didn't score it right and that's why I didn't win," he said. "On the other hand, I'm not going to cater what I do to what they're going to score.

"(The Dinner Roll) gives me a great feeling doing it, and the crowd loves it," Moseley added. "I don't want to go backwards.

"Who knows? Maybe in five years, 10 years, I'll ask myself, ŒWhat was I thinking?¹ I'd hate to have that happen. But at this point, I'll be happy if I lay down a really good run even if they don't give it the score I think it deserves.

"Besides, I already have a gold medal. I have room to play with this. I feel like my career has been charmed, and this is just icing.

"If there's any time to do this, it's here, it's now."