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First Olympic women's aerials champ Cheryazova dies at 50

MOSCOW (AP) — Lina Cheryazova, the first woman to win an Olympic aerials skiing gold medal, has died. She was 50. Officials in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where Cheryazova was living for the last two decades, said she died "following a lengthy illness," without giving further details.

Competing for newly independent Uzbekistan, Cheryazova won gold when aerials skiing became an official Olympic event — it had earlier been a demonstration sport — in 1994 in Lillehammer. Competing despite a training injury, Cheryazova pulled off a triple flip to win gold by less than one point despite nearly falling on the landing.

Shortly after winning, she learned her mother died three weeks before. Her mother had been severely wounded in an industrial accident and reportedly asked that Cheryazova not be told of her death until after the competition.

Cheryazova's career was derailed later that year when she suffered a serious head injury while training in the United States, striking her head on the ramp during a jump, and spent days in a coma. She retired after the 1998 Winter Olympics, where she failed to qualify for the final. With poverty widespread in Uzbekistan following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cheryazova moved to Russia, where she helped to raise funds for skiers and appeared at government events to popularize sport and fitness.

Cheryazova remains Uzbekistan's only medalist at the Winter Olympics, and the only woman to win a gold medal at the Summer or Winter Olympics for the Central Asian nation.

This story has been corrected to state Cheryazova qualified for the 1998 Olympics, but she did not qualify for the final.

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