PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jaelin Kauf came to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 as the No. 1-ranked mogul skier in the world.
But experience trumped youth in the women’s moguls finals, and the 21-year-old finished seventh.
Three Olympic veterans topped the podium instead. Perrine Laffont from France won the gold medal with a score of 78.65. Defending gold medalist Justine Dufour-Lapointe from Canada claimed silver with a 78.56, and Yulia Galysheva from Kazakhstan was the bronze medalist with a 77.40.
Kauf finished seventh. This is only the third time that no American woman has won a medal in moguls since the sport debuted on the Olympic program in 1992.
To compose herself after the devastation of not making the final round of six (called Final 3), Kauf FaceTimed her boyfriend, moguls veteran Jeremy Cota.
He reminded her that this is her first Olympics.
“If you look up on the podium, those girls have all been here before,” he told her. “They’ve had this experience, and to be able to deal with the pressure and compete on a stage like this is amazing.”
He convinced her to look forward, not back at the 28.74 seconds that it took her to ski the moguls course at PyeongChang’s Phoenix Snow Park. Known as one of the fastest skiers in women’s moguls, Kauf perhaps rushed her run too much and got sloppy in the middle.
“There’s a lot that I can accomplish moving forward,” she said, putting a brave face on disappointment. “Of course, I wanted to be on the podium up there today. But there’s still the crystal globe [for the world cup moguls title], world champs next year and another Olympics in four years. So my career is not over after today.”
She also hugged her mom and dad at the finish. Or rather, they hugged her.
Kauf’s parents, Patti and Scott, competed successfully on the World Pro Mogul Tour in the 1990s. Scott is a five-time World Pro Mogul Tour champion while Patti is a two-time winner. Patti also has X Games hardware: three bronze medals in skicross from 1999-2001.
Behind Kauf, Keaton McCargo, the veteran on the team at age 22, came in eighth.
“It’s disappointing as a team,” McCargo said. “I think our women’s team is one of the strongest in the field, and I think we had potential for any of us to be on the podium today, and we all just made little mistakes that cost it. That’s super frustrating.”
The youngest competitor to make the finals, 17-year-old Tess Johnson was competing in her first major international championship on the senior level.
McCargo said that the pressure of the world’s biggest stage got to the team.
“It’s so much bigger than what we normally compete on,” she explained. “When we compete on the world cup, we’re competing against the same athletes at those events. But here it’s in front of our friends and family and people we don’t know, and to have the music and to have your hometown watching is a whole other level. It totally adds pressure.”
On Instagram, McCargo learned that a bar in her hometown of Telluride, Colorado, had named a drink after her.
“That’s so cool!” she said. “Then it’s like whoa, now I have to do really well because they made this drink.”
Morgan Schild, who qualified in third place, was shocked when she did not move on to Final 2 (the round of 12). She ended up finishing 15th.
But she has felt the support of her hometown while she has been in PyeongChang — from people who have sent videos from schools she visited before flying to Korea and from skiers at Bristol Mountain in upstate New York, where she first took up moguls after watching Hannah Kearney win a gold medal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
“Seeing that they’re already proud of me, that’s a win in itself,” Schild said. “I’m happy that I can walk away with my head held high.”
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.