Mac Bohonnon jumps in the qualification round of the USANA Freestyle World Cup aerials competition at the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex on Jan. 19, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York.
Touristy Branson, Missouri, isn’t exactly a training hotbed for winter Olympians. The picturesque, summertime enclave proved to be the ideal landing spot for Mac Bohonnon, though.
The freestyle aerialist, who finished a surprise fifth in his Olympic debut earlier this year in Sochi, Russia, found Branson to be the perfect place to stay in shape and try something new while preparing for his next season. The 19-year-old spent a week in July at the Silver Dollar City amusement park performing stunts as part of a trampoline show, then signing autographs and mugging for pictures after shows.
“It’s just another way to train physically and mentally,” said Bohonnon, 19, who figured that one out of every 15 visitors recognized him from Sochi.
The Connecticut native, who went from being an Olympic long shot to potential medalist in just four years leading up to the 2014 Winter Games, performed choreographed jumps and flips while wearing specially designed skis as part of the two-trampoline show. The stunts weren’t all that different from those Bohonnon performs while training for aerials, which is why Flying Ace Productions — based in very-Olympic-friendly Park City, Utah — was attracted to him.
“Mac did a great job here,” said Flying Aces co-creator and 1994 Olympian Kris “Fuzz” Feddersen. “You can tell he’s got a ton of confidence right now, and he should.”
Bohonnon and a few others performed three 30-minute shows per day in front of about 900 fans. The show was a comfortable place where roller-coaster riders could take a breather while others like Bohonnon breathlessly did the flipping out.
“They’re just great individuals,” said Tim Stowe, the Silver Dollar City entertainment booker, adding that Bohonnon’s presence was virtually required this particular year to make it a fit. “Definitely, one of the highlights was having an Olympian. That really brings another level of credibility here to the show.”
Bohonnon wouldn’t call himself a showman by nature. But he gets it. Aerialists and other athletes must be vigilant ambassadors to keep their Olympic flames alive. That goes whether they’re strolling the streets of Park City or Lake Placid, New York — or a not-so-snowy training spot in the Midwest.
The trip to Sochi clearly changed Bohonnon’s life.
He said he was “in shock” the whole time there, stunned to not be like us: watching it on NBC from our couches. There were only three American aerialist spots available — and only one for a man. Bohonnon, who notes he had teammates just as capable on a given day, beat the odds.
He earned the trip and even landed a quad twisting, triple back flip — something he had never executed on snow before heading to the world’s biggest stage.
What’s next? Bohonnon insists the key is to “keep doing what I’ve been doing.” But Branson is all part of the growing process, too, believe it or not.
And there’s no crowd quite like one at an amusement park, which hyped up the Aces’ six-week appearance through the park’s summer long “Star-Spangled Summer” promotions.
“The crowds here were way more energized,” Bohonnon said during a series of phone calls late in his week of shows. “They pump me up even more here than they did in Sochi, to be completely honest with you. In Sochi, there were relatively small crowds — and in particular it was small American crowds. This was good for me. There’s some tension there, and some nerves to perform on the spot. That’s good for me to face right now.”
There’s also the aspect of using Branson to keep him in shape. Jumping on a trampoline wearing Feddersen’s self-styled skinny skis doesn’t exactly make Bohonnon any more proficient on an icy ramp. What the Utah transplant had to bring to the show was an insatiable energy level, along with fitness that he says got a challenge by doing three half-hour shows for six consecutive calorie-scorching nights.
“It’s exhausting,” Bohonnon added. “I definitely have had to take care of myself doing these shows, just like I would at a training site.”
The sport of aerials feels fresh to him right now, like a new roller coaster. He is healthy, confident, and seemingly on his way up at every turn. But he also feels wiser than his years, which is how colleagues describe him. It wasn’t all that long ago (about six years ago, actually) that Bohonnon seemed nearly done. His progress was lacking. Whatever a glass ceiling looks like for an aerialist, he was bumping it hard.
Technical folks called him “crooked.” He faced to the right and leaned to the left as he departed the ramp. His weight wasn’t evenly distributed on both feet, as evidenced by cameras that are used in training.
It wasn’t a situation in which he merely needed to grow a few inches before he could ride the rides. A previous coach thought Bohonnon was a lost cause. Current U.S. aerials coach Joe Davies laughs, calling Bohonnon “one of the best landers in the world.” But Davies also understands the point: Bohonnon had a lot of work to do to actually have a future.
Luckily, the athlete understood that, too.
Bohonnon these days will have to prove himself a lot more away from the enthralled crowds of Branson, and he knows it.
“I don’t sense it’ll be something that will affect me, and I’m trying to do everything I’ve done to this point with a distinct process,” he said. “But I think it’s safe to say I’m going to be coming from a completely different place looking at the next Olympics.”Jason Franchuk is a writer from the Albany, New York, area. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.