PARK CITY, Utah - All eyes were on Ashley Caldwell Friday night as she looked to continue her incredible world cup career and retain her top spot in the aerials world cup rankings at the Visa Freestyle International. Thanks to a third-place finish, Caldwell retained her yellow bib after a historic performance.
After a win at the season-opening world cup in Beijing, Caldwell entered the evening wearing the coveted yellow bib. She easily made it to the second round of aerials competition, where she was one of only two women to jump off the number-five kicker — the steepest jump of the event at 4.2 meters high with a 71-degree gradient. Switzerland’s Tanja Schaerer attempted the same jump during the second round, but she crashed the landing.
Caldwell, on the other hand, finished the second round with a score of 90.82, which qualified her second going into the final.
“It’s scary dude, that’s a huge jump, and I did three whole flips off of it,” Caldwell said of her incredible first jump off Deer Valley’s steepest kicker. “But it’s super fun and the crowd gets super excited, so I’m happy to be here at Deer Valley.”
Caldwell says she’s nervous every time going off the big kicker at Deer Valley, but also “stoked.”
“It’s a mix between stoked and fear and nerves,” said Caldwell, the defending champion in Park City.
Going into the final round, Caldwell knew she had to step up her final jump if she wanted to beat out surprising front runner Xin Zhang of China.
So instead of playing it “safe,” Caldwell went with the most difficult jump attempted by any of the women — a triple-twisting flip — and she did it once again off the course’s steepest kicker.
Caldwell was the only woman in the field to put down a triple Friday, just as she was Thursday, when she finished 11th.
“I don’t like backing down,” Caldwell said. “I like doing triple backflips. It can be scary, it can be challenging, but I love the reward, I love the excitement, and I like challenging myself and the sport.”
Caldwell’s score in the final round was 96.79, earning her the bronze medal, her ninth career world cup medal. Even though she finished third, her world cup standing stayed steady at No. 1.
While Caldwell wasn’t the first, or even the only, woman to go off the course’s steepest kicker, her triple full in the final round was the first of the world cup event at Deer Valley.
“I had to stretch really hard in the second flip and just barely got my feet under me, and I had a pretty deep landing, which cost me the win,” Caldwell said. Her landing was the only part of her second jump that wasn’t executed to perfection.
Despite not taking home the gold, Caldwell was incredibly optimistic and happy about her performance — and not just because the DJ was playing Taylor Swift during her final run (Swift being Caldwell’s favorite artist).
Going off the steepest kicker was one of the most satisfying moments for Caldwell during the world cup.
“It makes me feel like I’m tough and I’m pushing the sport,” Caldwell said. “There have been plenty of awesome female aerialists that have done the tricks that I’m doing, and I’m trying to keep the hard work they’ve put into the sport going.”
Caldwell admitted that she felt pressure headed into her final run in front of the large crowd on Friday night.
“I’ve been training my whole life for this, I won the year before, I have the yellow bib, there’s way more pressure than I’ve ever had before,” Caldwell said. “Last year at Deer Valley … I was the underdog. I think the biggest pressure is the fact that we’re doing triple backflips 65 feet in the air. That’s the most important thing I think about.”