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Posted: Feb 27, 7:26p ET | Updated: Feb 27, 7:26p ET

Four medals make for U.S. freestyle comeback

Kearney takes gold, Peterson lands silver, Bahrke and Wilson win bronze

WEST VANCOUVER (AP) -- One day into the Vancouver Olympics, the U.S. freestyle team had already doubled its medal output from Turin.

Two weeks later, the Americans can call it their best Olympics.

Sparked by Hannah Kearney's opening-night gold and Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson's inspirational silver, the moguls and aerials skiers combined for an unprecedented four medals in Vancouver. It was a stunning reversal from 2006, when Kearney didn't make it through qualifying, Peterson struggled with his "Hurricane" jump and the entire team won only a single bronze.

"It was redemption for Hannah Kearney, it was redemption for Speedy, it was redemption for all of U.S. freestyle," coach Jeff Wintersteen said Saturday. "Those kind of things get you excited."

Wintersteen said an improved fitness program helped put Kearney and bronze medalist Shannon Bahrke in position to succeed on moguls, as did a focus on peaking at the right time. In 2006, all 14 members of the freestyle team came into the Olympics in the top 15, but most were on a downward trend by the time they arrived.

To move forward, the United States has to find more young moguls skiers, the likes of 21-year-old Bryon Wilson, who was a member of the "B'' team starting this season. He picked up a pair of World Cup starts because of the injury of a teammate, qualified for the Olympics and won a bronze medal.

"In U.S. moguls, our strength comes out of really strong regional programs that give us more athletes," Wintersteen said. "We dwarf other countries in numbers. We need to have a good system at the national level so we can keep developing the top skiers."

In aerials, the United States wants to expand the idea of its Elite Air Program, a developmental system that brings promising young athletes (think gymnasts) into the fold at an early age. The program produced 16-year-old Ashley Caldwell, who basically used this Olympics as practice for the games she was really shooting for -- Sochi in 2014.

China's rise in aerials has fueled tension, with Australia, the United States and Canada trying to sort out who will own this sport over the next decade.

"Australia's program is definitely different than North America's. Hopefully it will open some pockets, and people will start doing the right thing in North America," said Dustin Wilson, the Canadian coach hired by China to lead its program. "The U.S. has got a great program, and in another four years they should have a good chance."

Skicross is where America has to make inroads quickly. This year's team consisted of Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett, two former downhill skiers who resurrected their careers in their late 30s.

Skicross is an odd blend -- there are Alpine and snowboarding techniques involved, which doesn't necessarily translate to a "pipeline" kind of sport. It could be a place for promising Alpine skiers who can't take the final step, much the way gymnasts move over to aerials.

"Nationally, the Alpine community needs to embrace it and say, 'Here's a viable option to win medals,'" Wintersteen said. "From the exposure the sport is going to get, it can happen. We have a plan. We need the community to get behind it."

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