LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Ashley Caldwell and Mac Bohonnon got their feet back under them on home snow.
On a cold Saturday night at the Lake Placid Freestyle Cup, Caldwell and Bohonnon each soared into the dark sky and landed on the aerials podium — redemption after a slow start to the season. Neither skier was close to the podium at the first two world cup events in China.
“It feels good because I didn’t do so hot in China,” said Caldwell, the defending world cup aerials champion who finished eighth and 17th in Beida Lake, China.
The only woman to throw a triple jump at the Olympic Sports Complex, Caldwell pulled ahead of Australia’s Danielle Scott because her jump’s degree of difficulty gave her the edge. Caldwell’s full full full (three flips, each with a twist) scored 99.63 points to Scott’s 92.00 (for a double full full). Kristina Spiridonova from Russia rounded out the podium with 81.27 points.
Shortly after the women’s super final, Bohonnon took to the air, almost perfectly executing a double full full full (three flips, the first with two twists, the others with one twist). But he was slightly off on his landing. He held the lead with a score of 119.46 until defending Olympic gold medalist Anton Kushnir from Belarus landed his full double full full, a slightly less difficult jump than Bohonnon’s. But a more solid landing pulled the Belarussian ahead with 120.36 points. Maxim Burov from Russia finished third with 107.32.
“It was amazing,” said Bohonnon, after hugging his parents and other family and friends who crowded into the finish area. “We had a slow start to the season. I always looking forward to coming back to Lake Placid.”
The slow start was due to warm conditions in Utah in November when the team normally gets on snow. But in mid- to late-December, snow fell in Utah, and the aerials skiers regained their ski legs.
“We really knew it was just a matter of time before these guys were up to speed,” said Emily Cook, a three-time Olympian who’s now coaching the U.S. team. “A little bit of a slow start in China. But everyone was jumping great, and we knew that it was going to come around soon. And here we are.”
Both Caldwell, 23, and Bohonnon, 21, started their careers at Lake Placid’s Olympic Jumping Complex as part of the U.S. Ski Team’s Elite Aerial Development Program around 2007, with Bohonnon starting in the eighth grade. Bounding with energy and enthusiasm, he emulated Ryan St. Onge, a two-time Olympian and world champion who is 11 years older than Bohonnon.
Caldwell qualified for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in her rookie year at age 17, then made her second Olympic team in 2014. Bohonnon was the sole U.S. male aerialist in Sochi at age 18, and he took advantage of the opportunity. He finished fifth, only 1.33 points from advancing to the medal round.
With confidence from his strong Olympic debut, Bohonnon launched into the 2015 season, winning his first world cup in Lake Placid, and then earning his first crystal globe, the trophy given to winners of FIS World Cup overall and discipline titles.
But then 2016 was a tougher season for Bohonnon — and he missed his annual dose of Lake Placid (he now lives in Park City, Utah) after the world cup there was canceled. His best finish in the first four world cups last season was 17th, and he hoped to find his rhythm again in front of a home crowd.
“Having Lake Placid canceled here last year, that was the biggest bummer for me,” he said. “I was looking forward to coming back and trying to defend my title.”
He won one world cup last winter, then injured his back at the end of the season — an injury he rehabbed through the summer.
Caldwell also scored her first world cup win in Lake Placid (back in 2011) and was happy to perform again in front of a home crowd.
“I missed out on a year of Placid,” she said, “so I had to come out here and make it count.”
She did it while injured — an overuse injury to her knee. And in the afternoon qualifier, she backed off her triple and did a double jump instead. One of the few women on the world cup to perform triple jumps, she has done either her full full full or a lay double full full since Sochi, where the full full full put her into the final. Then she botched the landing in the final and ended up finishing 10th, matching her result from the 2010 Games.
“I really don’t like to [back off from triples],” she said. “It’s not fun for me. I put in a lot of work in the off-season, and I don’t want to go out there and not give it 100 percent when I worked so hard to do the tricks I do.”
Adrenaline in the final and super final helped her forget her knee pain, and she brought out her triples again.
“I didn’t want to leave anything here because I haven’t been here in two years, and I just wanted to show [the crowd] what’s up and all the hard work I’ve been putting in,” she said.
Caldwell and Bohonnon will lead a strong U.S. aerials team to Deer Valley, Utah, where the world cup aerials competition will serve as the first 2018 Olympic selection event. Brothers Jon and Chris Lillis also made the finals in Lake Placid, with Jon finishing fifth and Chris 12th. Jon was the top U.S. finisher in fourth in the season’s first world cup.
“We’ve got a really deep squad, and we expect to definitely have a bigger team in Korea,” said Bohonnon, “because we’ve definitely proven that there’s multiple podium threats and multiple medal contenders on our team on any given day.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.