PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jaelin Kauf has come to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as the world No. 1-ranked moguls skier. She’s also a world championship medalist, with a bronze medal won last March in dual moguls.
It’s a lot of pressure for the 21-year-old, who’s one of the fastest moguls skiers in the world and has four world cup podiums this season. But Kauf doesn’t see it that way.
“Going into this as the world No. 1, it takes off a little bit of pressure,” she said in a press conference six days before she will compete in her first Olympic Games. “Because I’ve earned that spot, I’ve earned being No. 1. I know that I can be on the podium again.”
Kauf is also benefitting from the experience of Olympic gold and bronze medalist Hannah Kearney, who recently gave a presentation to the 2018 U.S. Olympic moguls skiers at their pre-Olympic training camp in Deer Valley, Utah. Kearney is a three-time Olympian who won a gold medal in 2010 and bronze in 2014.
But Kearney’s first Olympic Games did not go as planned.
Kearney went to Torino as the reigning world champion. Just 19 at the time, she expected the Olympic Games to be an experience like no other — with the music, the up-close-and-personals, the fanfare. And she expected to win.
Instead, Kearney did not even qualify for the final. She ended up finishing 22nd.
So with a PowerPoint presentation, Kearney told the 2018 Olympic moguls skiers — only one of whom is an Olympic veteran — about all of her experiences. From utter devastation to becoming an Olympic champion.
“Everything she said [resonated with me],” said Kauf, whose parents, Scott and Patti, were both winners on the pro mogul tour. Patti also won a bronze medal at the 1999 X Games in skicross. They live in Alta, Wyoming, home to Grand Targhee Ski Resort.
“[Hannah] talked about all her Games experiences and how different they all were,” added Kauf. “Going into the ‘06 Games, she put a ton of pressure on herself and didn’t even let herself enjoy the whole thing. That’s what I took from it. I’m going in as No. 1, but I’m trying not to put any pressure on myself.”
Later, Kauf talked to Kearney about handling pressure. And Kearney told her that “pressure isn’t real, it’s something we make up and put on ourselves, so don’t even worry or think about that.”
“So that really helped me,” said Kauf. “She went into [the 2006 Olympics] with so much pressure and so many expectations for herself that she couldn’t live up to them. And I’ve done that going into seasons or competitions, and it never works.”
Mostly, Kearney reminded the moguls skiers not to change anything in their training or skiing, that this is not the time to make big improvements.
“[She said] you just have to trust that you put in the work and the effort this summer and through the prep season,” said Kauf. “So going into the event, don’t do anything different. Just trust in yourself and your abilities.”
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Brad Wilson is the only Olympic veteran on the 2018 U.S. Olympic moguls team. He competed in the 2014 Sochi Games, finishing a disappointing 20th.
The 25-year-old from Butte, Montana, is bringing that experience with him to PyeongChang — both as fuel to ski better and in knowing what to expect on the Olympic stage.
Wilson, who last month finished third at a world cup, is also benefiting from his relationship with his older brother Bryon, who won a surprise bronze medal at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010. Four years older, Bryon has influenced Brad since they were kids.
Bryon may have beat up on his younger bro in backyard games — according to Brad, he has “older brother syndrome” (“No matter how strong I get, his mind overpowers it, it’s impossible to beat him”). But when it came to skiing, Brad has learned much from watching Bryon, who came back from an ACL injury this year but did not make the 2018 Olympic team.
Brad still remembers watching Bryon compete at the 2010 Vancouver Games. He was not favored to make the team that year, then did. In Vancouver, he was not expected to make the final. Then he did.
Then in the final, Bryon finished third.
“I was up there watching that run,” remembered Brad. “And being there and experiencing that was enough, understanding his joy, seeing the joy on his face. Seeing how much work he put into it and how it’s paying off, that experience goes way further than what he has to say about his experience.”
The men compete in moguls in PyeongChang on Monday, Feb. 12, when Brad hopes to bring another medal home to the Wilson household.
“In Sochi, I was along for the ride, just cruising along,” he said. “I was there to take it all in. Going into this Olympics, I have something to prove.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games, PyeongChang is her fifth. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.