The 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championships get underway in Sierra Nevada, Spain, this week, and Team USA’s roster of 16 moguls and aerials athletes is hungry for medals.
The team has 12 podium finishes this season – four each in aerials, moguls and dual moguls – and plenty of top-five results. Several athletes are hitting their stride and may be primed for the world podium.
The world championships continue through March 19, but the aerials and moguls events will be held Wednesday through Friday.
Here are a few of the storylines to follow:
Can Mac Bohonnon shake off a scary crash in Moscow last week?
Falls are nothing new in aerials, but the tumble the 21-year-old Bohonnon took last weekend at the season’s final world cup in Moscow had people gasping. The 2014 Olympian and 2015 world cup champion landed hard on his back and lay motionless for several minutes before leaving with help. A short time later, he took to the podium on his own to accept his medal for finishing the season in second place.
“After a tough summer and uncertainty of what the winter would bring, I couldn't be more excited to finish second overall,” Bohonnon tweeted out to fans. Two-time world champion Qi Guangpu of China finished atop the world cup standings.
Bohonnon had two podium finishes this season – a second place in Lake Placid, New York, and third at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang, South Korea – and is seeking his first world medal.
Will Kiley McKinnon and Ashley Caldwell challenge the Chinese and Australians?
Last month at Deer Valley Resort in Utah, McKinnon — a world silver medalist in 2015 — narrowly missed claiming her first world cup win when she was edged out by Australia’s Lydia Lassila, the 2010 Olympic champion, 95.52 points to 95.17. McKinnon’s second place earned her valuable points in qualifying for her first Olympic team. The Deer Valley event was the first of six selection events for U.S. aerialists and up to three athletes per gender with two podium finishes at those events will automatically qualify for the team.
At age 35, Lassila is making an inspiring comeback to competition after three years away, winning three titles including the season-ending event in Moscow and placing third in overall world cup standings. China’s Xu Mengtao, the silver medalist in Sochi, was first overall, and another Australian, Danielle Scott, was second.
McKinnon, in ninth place, was the top American, followed by 2016 world cup champion Ashley Caldwell at 10th.
Caldwell won this season’s Lake Placid and was the only woman in the final to throw a triple flip. While she struggled to find the podium again this season, she has proven success at world championships: At both of her past worlds appearances (2011, 2015), Caldwell finished fourth.
Madison Olsen and Elle Gaudette round out the women’s team.
After three top-five finishes on the world cup this season, can Jonathon Lillis crack the podium?
When Lillis was left off of the 2014 Olympic aerials team, he called himself “more motivated than disappointed.” In recent seasons, that motivation has led to greater consistency and, at age 22, he is a leader on the U.S. squad. Lillis arrives in Sierra Nevada hot off three top-five world cup finishes this season, including a fourth place in Moscow last week. A medal would help put him on the road to PyeongChang.
Alex Bowen, who won a silver medal at the 2015 world championships, is also gunning for a podium spot in Sierra Nevada. Eric Loughran rounds out the men’s team, with all four U.S. men ranking in the top 11.
Will the moguls squad capitalize on recent momentum?
Four U.S. moguls skiers finished the world cup season ranked in the top 10. On the women’s side, Keaton McCargo ended in sixth place, with Jaelin Kauf in seventh. For men, Troy Murphy was sixth and Brad Wilson seventh.
Morgan Schild scored her career-first moguls world cup win in February at Deer Valley, nearly two years after her sole dual moguls win. She also finished third at her first event of the season in Lake Placid.
Her teammates especially made waves in the season’s second half, with Wilson placing third in the duals event at the final world cup in China late last month; he was also third in Lake Placid in the moguls event. Kauf posted her first world cup win, also in duals, in Japan, and took third place in Deer Valley.
Joining them on the moguls teams are world championships veterans Tom Rowley and Dylan Walczyk.
Olivia Giaccio, FIS Rookie of the Year, makes her world championships debut
In her first full season on the world cup circuit, the 16-year-old Giaccio landed six top-15 finishes as well as her first career podium, a third in dual moguls at Tazawako, Japan. The high school junior, a top student who attends Stanford University Online High School, is the youngest athlete on the 2016-17 U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. Schild joins Giaccio in make her worlds debut.