By Craig Bohnert | Feb. 04, 2017, 12:05 a.m. (ET)
Kiley McKinnon celebrates on the podium after finishing second in women's aerials at the FIS Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley Resort on Feb. 3, 2017 in Park City, Utah.


The battle to qualify for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games began in earnest at Friday evening’s world cup aerials competition at the Visa Freestyle International in Park City, Utah, and Kiley McKinnon gained an early edge in the race with a second-place finish.

To automatically earn a spot in PyeongChang, an aerial athlete must have two podium results in qualifying competitions, and McKinnon’s seventh career top-three finish makes her the first to secure a podium in one of the six events that comprise the qualifying series.

Her result at Deer Valley also marked her return to the podium. The Madison, Connecticut native won the 2014-15 overall world cup with five podiums that season. She then started last season with a third place in Beijing in December 2015, but has failed to podium since. The 2015 world championships silver medalist is now ranked sixth in world cup standings.

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Australia’s Lydia Lassila, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist and gold medalist at the Vancouver 2010 Games, took the victory with a score of 95.52 on evening’s final run, edging out McKinnon’s 95.17. China’s Xu Mengtao, currently second in the world cup standings, finished third with a 92.35.

Elle Gaudette and Madison Olson reached the final and finished ninth and 10th, respectively. The athlete who recruited McKinnon onto Team USA, Mac Bohonnon, was one of two Americans to reach Friday’s men’s super final, along with Eric Loughran. Bohonnon, who was fifth at the Sochi 2014 Games, narrowly missed the podium with a 114.48, just 0.12 points away from third, while Loughran was sixth. Alex Bowen and Nik Seeman also qualified for the finals and ended up ninth and 11th.