Jacqui Cooper felt she had a debt to settle with Deer Valley. On Thursday at the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup, she collected. After a crash in competition at the Utah resort destroyed the Australian legend’s knee in 2002, Cooper took her vengeance on Deer Valley, cutting through a cold and snowy evening punctuated by a steady wind to set a World Cup record of 219.81 two-run points.
DEER VALLEY, Utah — Jacqui Cooper felt she had a debt to settle with Deer Valley. On Thursday at the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup, she collected. After a crash in competition at the Utah resort destroyed the Australian legend’s knee in 2002, Cooper took her vengeance on Deer Valley, cutting through a cold and snowy evening punctuated by a steady wind to set a World Cup record of 219.81 two-run points.
“I’ve been doing these jumps a long time and I never worry about injury or anything else,” she said after the competition. “I mean, all those things are in the past. But I’ve had a rough few years here at Deer Valley and I felt like I was owed something pretty special and it worked out great.”
The victory was the 19th of Cooper's career, a record among women’s aerialists. It’s also the second consecutive victory of the 2007 season, coming after a second and a fifth in the season openers in China. All this at the ripe old age of 34, a whopping 15 years older than the night’s eighth-place finisher, 19-year-old Shuang Cheng of China.
Despite the age gap between her and some of her competitors, it’s clear the sport hasn’t passed Cooper by. If anything, the time that has passed since her dominance in 1999-2001 and the injuries that caused her to miss all of the 2003 and 2004 seasons have allowed her a fresh mind-set and a new challenge. She views her current resurgence as a rebirth: the second career of Jacqui Cooper.
“I feel like I have been given a second chance at a new career — being able to make a comeback. … I spent the last three years basically reinventing myself. … I feel that those wins, that that stretch was so long ago that I feel like a new athlete. I can’t even remember what Jacqui Cooper was like back then. But I like this Jacqui Cooper, she’s doing pretty well. She’s like a good bottle of red,” she added with a smile, “you put it away for a while and open it up and it tastes pretty good.”
That reinvention has included a focus on technique and allowing her confidence to catch up with her undeniable talent. “I can relax because I’m so confident in my technique that that overrides everything else. I can just take it as it comes and just enjoy it. I just enjoy the process right now.”
And so with the record-breaking win punctuating a career for the ages, what’s next for Cooper? Well, it isn’t retirement. “[The record] has been standing for over 25 years and it’s pretty nice to break it. I sort of feel like now I can get on with business and keep winning more events.”
When asked about the prospect of retiring, she cried, “Noooooo!” adding, “do you think I should retire?”
While her competitors might be tempted to answer “Yes,” Cooper has no intention to do so. Like many great athletes, Cooper is firmly focused on the journey, not the destination. “The [biggest] motivating factor for me is to perform well. I just want to keep getting better each week, like technical skills and mental skills and all of that stuff. And if you get that stuff you’re going to win events. Wins don’t motivate me, jumping motivates me, and I want to just jump as well as I can.”
For well over a decade of World Cup aerials, Jacqui Cooper’s best has been the best in the world.