February 21, 2006
'Four years gone' in blink of an eye
PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

SAUZE D'OULX, Italy -- This was to be Jeff Bean's redemption for the rip-off at Salt Lake.

A fourth-place finish (there's no worse place to be at an Olympics) that should have been at least one step higher. Imagine waiting four years to take one, solitary step?

Bean, the 10-year-veteran of the national freestyle ski team, waited, only to slip when the moment arrived.

Because of a poor landing on his second jump of the qualifying round in aerials here last night, the 29-year-old Ottawa native won't even be competing in Thursday's finals.

His last Olympics. His last jump.

And his first words?

"That sucks," Bean said, getting to the heart of the matter, as always. "There's no other word to describe it. It looks like a big mistake, but it's such a small, little thing. I was a little too fast, too much rotation ... and four years are gone."

Bean actually suspected as much before he even came down.

A sport which, to the untrained eye, appears to involve a series of random twists and summersaults that all look pretty much the same after a while, is so precise that Bean knew the moment he left the ramp he was in trouble.

He had too much speed, too much height, and it was going to cost him.

"I was in the air, and I was 90% sure that it was over," he said. "I was just thinking to myself, 'Do everything you can, stretch as hard as you can ... there was nothing else I could have done in the air. I almost had that feeling in the air of being totally deflated."

Some 50 feet off the ground, but on the verge of a new low.

"And at that moment of impact," Bean said, "I knew it was over."

If the Olympics celebrated the unfair, Bean could be its poster boy.

On the road to Salt Lake City, he'd spent 3 1/2 months with his leg in a cast, fractured in four places after a bad fall. He came back from that, and look what it got him.

Reloading for Turin, he fractured a vertebrae just over two years ago.

The neck fully healed, he came here intent on mending the emotional wounds of Salt Lake, only to be done in by a margin of error the rest of us will never know.

We make mistakes 100 times bigger in our jobs, and life goes on.

Bean barely slips up, once, and part of his life ends.

"It's not easy to deal with," he said. "It's what the Olympics are about. This is what makes it so special, is the fact it is a one-day event. That's also what makes it so hard."

Everything he's been through has given Bean perspective, though.

Most days, he has more fun than ever.

"I realize how lucky I am this is my office," he said, looking back up the hill. "And this is what I get to do for a living."

So he'll ski another year, at least, then "see what I want to do when I grow up and get a real job."

He can take heart: his next job will be much more forgiving.