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Entries in Olympics (9)

Friday
Dec142012

Olympians Live Longer, Study Finds

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/GettyImages(NEW YORK) -- Not only does Michael Phelps have more gold medals than you, he’ll probably live longer, too.  A new study found Olympic medalists live an average of 2.8 years longer than their fellow countrymen.

“Olympic medalists live longer than the general population, irrespective of country, medal or sport,” study author Dr. David Studdert of the Melbourne School of Population Health in Australia wrote in the study of 15,000 medalists from nine countries, published Thursday in the journal BMJ.

Athletes who competed in cardiovascular-intense events such as cycling and rowing had the same survival advantage as those in less-intense sports such as golfing, according to a separate study of 9,000 athletes published in the same journal.  Athletes who participated in high-injury risk events such as boxing, rugby or ice hockey, on the other hand, had an increased risk of death compared with other Olympians.

But you don’t have to be an Olympian to benefit from physical activity.  A 2012 study published in The Lancet suggests simply eliminating inactivity could add nearly a year to your lifespan.

“Although the evidence points to a small survival benefit of being an Olympian, careful reflection suggests that similar health benefits and longevity could be achieved by all of us through regular physical activity,” Dr. Adrian Bauman of Sydney University’s School of Public Health and Dr. Steven N. Blair of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health wrote in an editorial accompanying the studies.  “We could and should all award ourselves that personal gold medal.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity -- such as brisk walking -- weekly for adults ages 18 to 64.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug102012

Injured Olympians Turn to Tape: The Sticky Science of Kinesio

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The neon tape swathing sprinters and swimmers alike, called Kinesio, is taking London by storm.

"It's all over the Olympics," said Dr. Jennifer Solomon of New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery.  "Athletes love it."

Developed by a Japanese chiropractor, Kinesio claims to cut pain and boost performance.  And judging by its prominence at this year's Games, athletes think it works.

"If you ask them, they say it does," said Solomon, team physician for the U.S. Tennis Association.  "But there's no solid scientific evidence that this tape helps."

Crafted from cotton and medical grade adhesive, Kinesio is more flexible than traditional tape.  And when strategically strewn along injured muscles, its gentle tug promotes circulation to help clear out damage, according to its maker.

"No one's claiming this is a cure," said Mike Good, international director for the Albuquerque, N.M.-based company.  "It's an adjunct therapy."  

But a slew of studies that failed to find bona fide benefits have some experts skeptical.

"It might have some small role in the rehab process," said Dr. Dennis Cardone, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.  "But without evidence, we can't say it's doing anything near what the company claims or what athletes using it say they feel."

The effort to tease out the tape's true benefits is complicated by the placebo effect.

"If an athlete's convinced the tape is helping and looks cool, it can certainly boost their confidence," Cardone said.

The waterproof tape, designed to stick for up to five days, sells for $6 a strip or $13 a role.  But buying it is only half the battle.

"If you don't know the proper taping technique, you're not going to get the results you want," said Good, adding that more than 100,000 athletic trainers worldwide have taken the paid Kinesio Taping course, about 10,000 last year in the United States alone. "The tape is just a tool."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul312012

Five-Ring Fever: When Olympic Parents Push Their Kids Too Hard

Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Judi Brown Clarke, a silver medalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics who went on to coach at Michigan State University, witnessed young athletes who fell apart as their controlling parents pushed them to the limit.

"I have seen athletes who wanted to please their parents so much -- this extra pressure to perform made them anorexic or bulimic," said Clarke, now 51.

Behind many Olympic athletes is a parent (or two) who have encouraged and pushed their child through tens of thousands of hours of grueling training to keep them on track.

Jim and Cecille Adrian watched their 23-year-old son Nathan qualify for the 100 meters freestyle with the fastest time in the preliminary rounds.

"Driving about 100,000 miles in four years, taking vacations in about 15 different cities in the US, probably 100,000 air miles -- and that's just the start," Jim Adrian told ABC News. "It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it. It's a good investment. You always invest in your kids."

For Les and Cathy Volmer, parents to 100 meter butterfly gold medalist Dana, their daughter's success as a junior swimmer convinced them to keep supporting her -- despite the missed vacations and long hours.

"The cost of it all -- you had to look ahead and say, I don't want to say is she worth spending the money on -- [but] are we pointing in the right direction, are we putting our money in the right direction?" Les Volmer told ABC News. "As long as she kept giving us information with her smiles, her talent, her coaches talking to us about yeah, she can make the next level -- then it was always worth it. And it got expensive but there was always a success in sight. So we kept going on."

Sports psychologists and even the athletes themselves recognize that parents need to balance their control so their children can be winners, but not losers in life.

Clarke feels so strongly about the issue that she contacted Rita Wieber to guide her before 17-year-old Jordyn Wieber's disappointing gymnastic performance in London.

"I wanted to give her insight into what it looks like from the athlete's perspective to be a parent -- where is the line of control," said Clarke, who is now director of diversity at the National Science Foundation Center for Science and Technology at Michigan State University.

"I sometimes find that it's not the parents who have had success, but the parent who had a frustrating career and vicariously see their child as their second chance," said Clarke. "They see it as a personal accomplishment instead of the child's accomplishment."

Most athletes' parents never step over healthy boundaries, according to Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.

But according to a study on coach perceptions, three out of 10 parents may cross that fine line "unknowingly," and one in 10 will actually be "high maintenance."

"They are critical with the child or lose emotional control," said Gould. "Sometimes they try to coach when they are not trained as a coach or walk off the court with a lot of drama."

He and his colleagues studied the long-term outcomes of Olympic champions in a paper published by the Association of Applied Sports Psychology.

"We know parents in general influence kids in a lot of ways," he said. "If the parent places more importance on winning that tends to create more stress."

Their research has shown that parental pressure can also backfire, hurting an athlete's development. Some "burn out" or leave the sport altogether.

The average athlete gives 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" to develop the expertise to go all the way to the Olympics, according to Gould. "They do it with some yelling and pushing, but in the end, you push yourself."

"Even well-meaning parents can get really caught up in five-ring fever," he said. "You can't use guilt to motivate a kid or love withdrawal."

Gould says it's a "delicate balance." The best parent will ask their children to, "follow through on your commitments and the responsibility of good practice."

No parent-child relationship is ever going to be completely "normal" at this level of competition, according to Gould.

Larry Lauer, who is director of coaching education and development at the institute, did a study on the influence of parents on nine professional tennis players.

Athletes with controlling parents thought about quitting at some point in their junior careers. "Those who carried forward decided to play tennis for themselves and not for their parents," he said.

One top-ranked female player told researchers, "My mom would rather have me win a tournament than come home to see her."

When he looked at athletes and their parents over time, the most demanding parents had, "strained relationships" with their children.

Both pro football player Todd Marinovich and tennis grand slam star Andre Agassi wrote about the impact of obsessive parent coaches, suffering depression and drug addiction.

"When people are constantly under stress it causes them to make other choices to relieve that stress, like drinking and taking drugs or even promiscuity," said Lauer.

As for former Olympic medalist Clarke, she tries to strike a balance with her three children, including 15-year-old Antonio, who is a rising high school basketball and track star.

"I try not to get over-involved," she said. "I used to coach professionally and that kicks in -- and it's a fine line between being a coach and a parent. Intrinsically, they have to see the sport as their core value in their life, otherwise there is resistance when a parent is always pushing them."

"I had to not use my personal drive and how I see sports and impose that on my kids," said Clarke. "They had to figure it out for themselves."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul302012

Jordyn Wieber's Dreams Deflate After Lifetime of Focus

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Gymnast Jordyn Wieber disintegrated into tears as she failed to advance to the all-around final Sunday in London--an individual Olympic gold medal now out of reach in the sport's premiere event that takes place only once every four years.

The 5-foot 2-inch superstar was ousted by teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, despite predictions that she would attain the star status of past athletes like Mary Lou Retton or Nastia Liukin.

Each country is limited to two gymnasts in the all-around and event finals and so Wieber got knocked out at the qualifying round.

The 17-year-old is not the first to have their Olympic dreams deflated in a single moment in time after years of sacrifice and expectations. They train for competition, not for disappointment.

Psychologists say that these defeats can be agonizing, especially when the hype is so high. The New York Times had called the Michigan-born, "pint-sized pixie," this summer's Olympic "sweetheart."

"It's very sad," said Roni Cohen-Sandler, a clinical psychologist from Weston, Conn., who specializes in adolescent stress.

"I do worry about kids -- and they are kids at 17 -- who feel as if winning a gold medal will completely change their life and make or break them as people," she said. "That's very dangerous."

But, as trained competitors, these Olympic athletes have already had their share of disappointments.

"Hopefully, their coaches and parents are supportive and not focused only on their successes and failures," she said.

When parents live vicariously through their athlete children, losing can feel like "double failure," said Cohen-Sandler, who is author of the 2005 book, Stressed Out Girls: Helping Them Thrive in the Age of Pressure.

"That perception is often what causes them to burn out," she said. "They can't take that kind of pressure and it takes away a lot of enjoyment of the sport -- and really interferes with their performance."

Wieber reached the top of her game when she was only 10. As an eighth grader in 2009, she won the all-around at the American Cup. Since then, Wieber has only ever lost twice in competition and only to Americans.

Thus far, she has no Olympic laurels to rest on like 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps, who also got knocked off his pedestal. For the first time in 12 years, he didn't grab swimming gold as Ryan Lochte took that medal instead for the 400 IM.

But others, like skier Lindsey Vonn, know what it is to suffer the agony of defeat against high expectations. With 31 World Cup victories, she was hyped as the "Michael Phelps of the Winter Games" in Vancouver in 2010.

Vonn injured her shin just prior to the Canadian games and although she won the gold medal in downhill, she crashed in the slalom portion of the super-combined race, giving up a medal. She finished third in the super-G, but in her fourth event, the giant slalom, she lost control, skirting a gate and was disqualified.

Wieber didn't make the individual finals but may be able to regroup and help her team capture a gold -- its first title since the "Magnificent Seven" in 1996 in Atlanta.

"It's really hard," said her friend and teammate Raisman, according to ESPN. "That was kind of like my first thought. I was really happy but then at the same time I feel bad just because I know how bad (Wieber) wanted it."

National coach Martha Karolyi added: "I'm very sad, but I'm very happy about the other girls ... Hard work pays off ... we support Jordyn, but things happen."

Florida sports psychologist Andrea Corn said Americans can be too critical, making these Olympic defeats "so black and white." She worries that such pressures will discourage young athletes from trying for "fear of failure."

She is writing a book about how to make athletics enjoyable for children and teach them how to deal with inevitable failure.

"If you put all your eggs in one basket and spend your life doing something, your whole identity is wrapped up in being an Olympic athlete, then there is a misstep and you lose out and don't get to make your dream," she said.

But Wieber, with all her years of training, must be "strong mentally," added Corn.

"She had to be disappointed, but crying is cathartic and healthy," she said. "She didn't fail -- she did extraordinarily well ... she was a victim of circumstances."

"Our society has a way of making failures," said Corn. "[Wieber] gave it her all and came up a wobble short -- a step and a wobble. It shouldn't be looked on as a young girl who failed. She gave it her all."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul302012

They Eat What? Food Secrets of Olympic Athletes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It takes more than just practice to become an Olympian; gold medal performances require some serious nutrition.  So what do these elite athletes eat to stay in peak shape?

Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutritious Life Meals, appeared on ABC's Good Morning America Monday to give you a glimpse into the diets of some top athletes.  Some of their meals could surprise you.

Crazy Calorie Count

Glassman said Olympians eat a lot of food -- quantities that for ordinary people would constitute pigging out.  One secret of swimmer Michael Phelps’ astonishing performance in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was consuming as many as 12,000 calories in one day.

Other athletes fuel up on some of the following foods: A pound of pasta drizzled with olive oil (about 800 calories), a dozen eggs (about 840 calories), a pint of Ben & Jerry’s cheesecake brownie ice cream (about 1,000 calories) and pizza (about 2,000 calories).

Athletes can eat like this and not gain any weight because their workouts are intense.  According to Glassman, Phelps’ workouts can burn 4,000 to 6,000 calories in a day, and those calories must be replenished in order to train the following day.

The body needs carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fluid in order to be properly fueled for exercise.  Eating right allows athletes to delay fatigue, work harder -- possibly giving them the edge they need to set a personal record -- and recover faster, Glassman said.

Snacking Secrets

Some athletes eat wacky foods that they swear improve their performance.

Yohan Blake, the Jamaica sprinter and 100-meter world champion, has been making waves for stealing champion sprinter Usain Bolt’s thunder on the track during the Olympic trials.  When asked how he gets his stamina, Blake answered that he eats 16 bananas per day, Glassman said.

Jonathan Horton, the lead gymnast on the U.S. team, has a blood sugar problem.  His solution is honey.  When he starts to feel shaky at the gym, he takes swigs of honey to boost his energy, Glassman said.  According to Horton, the sugar rushes to his blood right away and he feels amazing for the next hour or so, she added.

Kerry Walsh, the two-time American Olympic medalist and beach volleyball player, eats lots of almond butter and honey sandwiches throughout the day, especially before she competes, Glassman said.

Almond butter is packed with endurance-boosting nutrients including protein, plus healthy fats.  Protein helps prevent muscle wasting during exercise and prevents you from feeling hungry during exercise.  The healthy fats in almond butter are rich in calories and provide energy for hours.

Foods for Recovery

What are the best foods to help the body recover after rigorous competition?

U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman swears by chocolate milk because of its high carbohydrate and protein content, Glassman said.

For Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, the recovery meal is grilled chicken breasts with Alfredo sauce, whole-grain spaghetti and a salad with lemon juice and olive oil.  Lochte, who recently cut out junk food, candy and soda, has undertaken a rigorous strength-training regimen that involves flipping tractor tires, dragging shipyard chains and tossing beer kegs, Glassman said.

Lochte’s recovery meal has all the important macronutrients necessary for recovery.

Other recovery foods Glassman mentioned:

  • Pickle juice.  The salty-yet-savory juice has high doses of all-important sodium, potassium and magnesium.  Sodium prevents muscle cramps.
  • Sweet tart cherries.  Pack these in your gym back.  The antioxidants in cherry juice may suppress the enzymes that cause inflammation of the body from the stress of exercise.
  • Beet juice.  The blood-red elixir of the beet is apparently the hottest thing for Olympic athletes looking for a legal performance boost, Glassman said.  Beet juice is rich in nitrates, which help muscles use oxygen more efficiently.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul102012

Olympian Hope Solo Warned After Positive Drug Test

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- U.S. soccer star Hope Solo says she had no idea a prescription drug she took for "pre-menstrual purposes" contained a diuretic on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list.

"Once informed of this fact, I immediately cooperated with USADA and shared with them everything they needed to properly conclude that I made an honest mistake, and that the medication did not enhance my performance in any way," Solo, the 30-year-old goalkeeper from Seattle, said in a statement.

A sample of Solo's urine collected on June 15 tested positive for canrenone, a prohibited diuretic, according to the USADA.  But when her doctor-prescribed medication was found to contain canrenone in therapeutic doses, she was given a public warning instead of a suspension.

"As someone who believes in clean sport, I am glad to have worked with USADA to resolve this matter and I look forward to representing my country at the 2012 Olympic Games in London," she said.

Because banned substances can be found in prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as dietary supplements, the USADA urges athletes to do their research before taking them.  The agency runs educational sessions, distributes easy-reference wallet cards and manages a hotline to answer athletes' questions.  And if an athlete needs to take a medication that contains a substance on the prohibited list, they can apply for permission.

"As in all cases, we thoroughly investigate the circumstances and always do what is fair and right for clean athletes and the integrity of sport," USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart said in a statement.

Solo is one of 14 American athletes to receive a sanction under United States Olympic Committee's anti-doping policies this year, according to the USADA.  She is one of three athletes to avoid suspension.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jul072012

Poor Performances Due to Meat-Free Diet According to China Volleyball Team

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Chinese athletes were ordered to avoid eating beef, lamb and pork to minimize the risk of getting an accidental positive doping from clenbuterol-tainted meat for the London 2012 Olympics, according to the Telegraph.

After three weeks on a vegetarian diet, the coach of the China’s women’s volleyball team complains that her team lost four straight games in the world grand prix tournament in Ningbo because they were not adjusting to their new diet and lost strength and fitness.

The China’s Sports Ministry banned meat products because clenbuterol is contained in more than half of all meat eaten in Beijing.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May152012

Beijing Olympics Show Air Pollution-Heart Attack Link

Top Photo Group/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Eat healthy. Exercise. Don’t smoke. These are all tips we’ve heard on ways to reduce the risk of heart attacks and blood clots. But most people would never think air pollution can increase their risk.

A study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that a drop in air pollution levels during the 2008 Beijing Olympics was linked to decreased risk factors for heart problems, stroke and blood clots there.

Authors of the research attributed the improved air in China’s capital to a decreased amount of traffic in normally congested areas during this time. Two weeks after the Olympics, the air pollution returned to its normally high levels -- and so did the risk factors in Beijing’s inhabitants.

While previous research has suggested such a link, “this study is different because it is the first study to show how air pollution affects young and healthy hearts,” said Junfeng Zhang, professor of environmental and global health at the University of Southern California and one of the authors. “It also shows how our body responds rapidly to changes in pollution.”

In separate research, Dr. Tim Nawrot, associate professor at Hasselt University in Belgium, led a 50-year review of the literature on the relationship between heart attacks and air pollution. His findings also supported the link between air pollution and heart disease -- and he believes the impact can even be quantified.

“On a population level, our study found that air pollution is comparable to other triggers for heart attacks such as using cocaine, stress, physical exertion, and excess coffee or alcohol,” Nawrot said. “Actually, we can say that at a population level, five percent of heart attacks are triggered by air pollution.”

In light of the growing body of research, major organizations such as the American Heart Association are taking notice.

“Previously we thought that air pollution affects only the lungs but there is a huge body of evidence that suggests air pollution synergizes with other risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and hypertension to increase the risk of having a heart attack,” said  Dr. Sanjay Rajagopalan, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State University and a member of the heart association’s  Scientific Statement Committee. “In and of itself, air pollution is a weak factor, but in conjunction with other risk factors, it can amplify the risk for heart attacks.”

So what can be done in light of Tuesday’s study? Zhang suggests greater use of public transportation and not going outdoors when levels of air pollution are high.

Rajagopalan said people should focus on the things they can control, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking.  He also suggests avoiding nonessential travel to areas that are heavy in air pollution.

Internationally, this would include India, which was found to have the worst air pollution in the entire world, followed by Bangladesh, Pakistan and China. The figures come from the 2012 Yale and Columbia Universities Environmental Performance Index.

According to the American Lung Association, the top 10 polluted U.S. cities in 2012 include:

  1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
  2. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
  4. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
  5. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
  6. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
  7. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz.
  8. Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio/Ky./Ind.
  9. Louisville-Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Scottsburg, Ky./Ind.
  10. Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland, Pa./N.J./Del./Md.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul272011

Olympian Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson Carried Traumas to His Death, Experts Say

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- Jeret "Speedy" Peterson was the only Olympic skier who could pull off his gravity-defying signature jump -- the Hurricane. The breathtaking aerial move consisted of five twists and three somersaults at more than 50 feet in the air. The jump never failed to draw wild cheers from awestruck spectators.

This jump won Peterson a silver medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Feb. 25, 2010. Exactly 17 months later, to the day, 29-year-old Jeret "Speedy" Peterson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Utah canyon.

The death was unexpected for those who knew the famously kindhearted athlete with a twinkle in his eye and a genuine but mischievous smile.

But behind that smile and his passion for a risky sport was a lifetime of painful and traumatic events that psychologists said likely stayed with him through both personal and professional highs and lows.

Peterson had spoken publicly about his struggles with alcohol, depression and suicidal thoughts. He had been the victim of sexual abuse as an infant, which his mother later told him about, turning him into an activist for sexually abused children. He also lost his 5-year-old sister in an accident involving a drunken driver.

"When you've had trauma in the past, like the loss of a sibling or sexual abuse in your history, those things are always part of your life story, and other stresses can bring them to the foreground, while good times can push them to the background," said Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist and professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.

Months before the Turin Olympics in 2006, a friend of Peterson's committed suicide in front of him. Peterson came in seventh place in Turin and was sent home early from the Games for getting into a brawl with a friend after a night out celebrating with the team.

"If you know someone who has committed suicide, it does increase your risk of committing suicide," Kaslow said. Other risk factors include substance abuse, childhood traumas, depression and loss, all of which Peterson experienced. Kaslow said that these risks could be managed through good social support, coping skills, religious or spiritual involvement, or therapy.

"Here is a guy who's had traumas etched into his memory and obviously caused him problems throughout his life," said Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In 2010, Peterson said that he had stopped drinking. But last Friday, he was arrested outside Hailey, Idaho, for drunken driving. He pleaded not guilty.

The Vancouver Games were redeeming for Peterson's career and public image. Even though he had been the 2005 World Cup champion, a seven-time winner on the World Cup circuit, a three-time American champion and a three-time Olympic team member, he was often remembered for his tumultuous experience in Turin.

But when he nailed his signature jump in Vancouver and came away with the silver medal, he walked off Cypress Mountain with tears streaming down his face and hope for the future.

"I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything," Peterson said after winning his medal. "There's light at the end of the tunnel, and mine was silver and I love it."

Unfortunately, this healthy outlook was not to last.

The psychologists who spoke for this story, neither of whom had treated or been in contact with Peterson, said that the time between peaks can be very difficult for those whose occupations center on thrilling events.

"Oftentimes when you have people like Olympiads or people who go on space shuttles, they're at the height of their careers and their lives," Kaslow said. "For some of them, it's really hard to figure out what's next. When they don't have that fun center to take up a big part of their [lives], they feel lost, and some people become more vulnerable."

Peterson was enrolled as a student at Westminster College in Salt Lake City this year, where he was working toward a degree and had not yet decided whether he would train for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

"Once the glory is over and you come back down to baseline, somebody like that is at risk of slipping further into depression," Klapow said. "Nobody's paying attention to them anymore, the glory is not there, and now he has time to be with his thoughts again."

These thoughts led Peterson to drive to the remote Lambs Canyon in Utah, between Salt Lake City and Park City, late Monday night. There, Peterson called 911 and told police where they could find him after he shot himself, police said. A suicide note was found near his car, but police have not disclosed its content.

Despite Peterson's troubled past, news of his death shocked those who knew him as the charismatic boy from Boise, Idaho, who had a passion for the open air and a determination to do what others said was impossible.

"We cannot always predict things," Kaslow said. "While we oftentimes associate suicide with people who are depressed and disengaged from life, there are a lot of people who kill themselves who seem to be doing well in life."

Klapow emphasized that problems such as depression and alcoholism cannot be viewed simply as weaknesses that people need to "buck up" and overcome. They are illnesses that can be managed but must be taken seriously, because otherwise, they can lead to tragic outcomes.

Today, the athletic community is reeling from the loss of one of its most talented stars.

"The silver medal is the thing that people recognize, and it's the iconic representation of excellence in the Olympics," Tom Kelly, the vice president of communication for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, told ABC News. "What we remember him for is someone who took his sport to a new level that it had never seen and it may never see again."

After the Vancouver Games, Peterson returned to his native Boise, where his community came together to celebrate its hometown hero. Many children came to a rally held in his honor where he received a key to the city and basked in the pride of his town and his accomplishment.

"This is a sad day for Boise and for all of us who admired 'Speedy' Peterson's accomplishments, both on the slopes and in his life," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter in a statement. "The hundreds of kids who came to City Hall to shake Speedy's hand after he 'medaled' in Vancouver last year are a living testament to his power to inspire and motivate. It is truly tragic that, in the end, there was one hill he wasn't able to conquer."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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