By Chrös McDougall | Dec. 16, 2017, 11:59 p.m. (ET)
Ashley Caldwell celebrates after winning the women's aerials skiing gold medal at the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships on March 10, 2017 in Sierra Nevada, Spain.

 

Aerials world champion Ashley Caldwell took a major step toward qualifying for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 when she finished third in the world cup opener on Saturday at the Secret Garden Resort in China.

Caldwell, a two-time U.S. Olympian, now has one of two podium spots needed to objectively qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team. She struggled with her landings on Saturday but made up for it with her high degree of difficulty.

Up to three women who have two podium finishes at any of the five selection events will make the team.

Hanna Huskova of Belarus won the women’s competition, followed by China’s Mengtao Xu. Two other Americans made the finals, with Jon Lillis finishing sixth in the men’s competition and Kiley McKinnon, who was second at the first Olympic qualifier, finishing 12th on the women’s side.

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Both Caldwell and Lillis are coming off seasons in which they won world titles. At the world championships, Caldwell, who is from Ashburn, Virginia, became the first woman to land “the daddy,” which is a full, double full, full.

Should she qualify for the PyeongChang Games, she’ll attempt to be the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal in aerials since Nikki Stone won a gold medal in 1998.

Lillis, a Rochester, New York, native, is aiming to make his first Olympic team. The last U.S. man to win an Olympic medal was the late Jeret “Speedy” Peterson in 2010. Eric Bergoust in 1998 was the only U.S. man to win an Olympic gold medal.

The Secret Garden World Cup continues Sunday with a team aerials competition.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.