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U.S. Freestyle Aerials Ski Team Is Optimistic For Olympic Success Despite Frustrating Season

By Peggy Shinn | Jan. 20, 2018, 11:40 p.m. (ET)

Mac Bohonnon competes in the men's qualifying round of the Putnam Freestyle World Cup at the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex on Jan. 20, 2018 in Lake Placid, N.Y. 


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — It’s been a frustrating season for the U.S. freestyle aerials skiing team. In the first five world cups, the women only landed on the podium twice. And the men not once.

The sixth and final world cup, held at Lake Placid’s Olympic Jumping Complex, was no different. Although Eric Loughran and world cup rookie Nicholas Novak both qualified for the final, neither made the podium, finishing eighth (103.98) and 10th (95.58), respectively.

Maxim Burov from Russia won, with a score of 128.51. Ukraine’s Anton Kushnir threw a jump with the highest degree of difficulty (an extra flip) and finished second with 126.50. Naoya Tabara, a 37-year-old from Japan, rounded out the podium with a 119.46.

No women made the final. A gust of wind caught reigning aerials world champion Ashley Caldwell in qualification, and she crash landed, finishing 31st. Sixteen-year-old Karyl Loeb, in her first world cup, was the top American woman in 22nd.

Xu Mengtao from China won (112.99), followed by the Australian duo of Lydia Lassila (93.76) and Laura Peel (93.76) in second and third, respectively.

“This has been a really tough season for us,” said Caldwell, a two-time Olympian who has finished on the podium 12 times in her world cup career. “This is some of the lowest results we’ve ever put up as a team, and that’s frustrating.”

Kiley McKinnon, 22, was the only aerialist to meet the objective Olympic qualification criteria of two world cup podiums in the seven selection events – one earned in February 2017 and the other earlier this month.

The freestyle aerials Olympic team will be named next week. The U.S. has earned four quota spots for the men and three for the women. The U.S. can bring a maximum of 16 men and 16 women to PyeongChang for freestyle skiing — including aerials, moguls, slopestyle, halfpipe and skicross. So the quota spots will be divvied up among these disciplines.

“I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t know if we’re all just stressed out about the qualification process or something,” speculated Caldwell.

Despite results, the skiers are optimistic.

“This season’s been really interesting because I feel like I’ve been jumping unbelievably well,” said Mac Bohonnon, who has nine world cup podiums and three wins on his aerials resume, including a second place in Lake Placid last year. His best result this season was sixth at the second world cup in Secret Garden, China — the venue for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Both Caldwell and Bohonnon credited bad luck with some of the poor results. The Secret Garden world cups were windy, and wind can make high-flying aerials tricky. Then at the next two world cups — in Russia and Deer Valley, Utah — it rained.

Last night, Bohonnon caught an edge on the kicker, and his ski shot out to the side. He went up the ramp with one of his skis on the stairs on the side of the ramp.

“It was one of the scariest jumps I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “I was happy to land on my feet and not on my head.”

Saturday night, he successfully threw his jump. But he somersaulted on landing.

“Unfortunately, you don’t get bonus points for doing an extra flip because I did one and did not see a very good score for it,” he said wryly.

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This season, Bohonnon added a new jump to his freestyle aerials repertoire. The 22-year-old has learned the Hurricane — a jump with five twists and three flips pioneered by the late Jeret “Speedy” Peterson.

At the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Peterson won a silver medal throwing the Hurricane.

Bohonnon threw it for the first time in Deer Valley last weekend and finished ninth. The aerials field is deep, and more men are attempting quint-twisting triple flips.

“I’m excited for the next few weeks to see more and more guys do five twists,” said Bohonnon. “There’s a handful of guys out there who can and will be doing it. That’s pushing the sport, that’s raising the bar, which is going to be exciting to see.”

“That’s what happens in the Olympic season, people show up,” he added.

Caldwell has also added another big trick to her arsenal. One twist shy of a Hurricane, it’s a full, double full, full (also known as “The Daddy”). It’s a trick that the men do, and Caldwell is the second woman to ever attempt it on snow and the first to land it, which she did to win the 2017 world title.

“I landed another one in training the other night, so I’m training the tricks, I’m doing the big tricks,” said Caldwell. “It just all needs to come together for me.”

Both Bohonnon and Caldwell came up through the U.S. Ski Team’s Elite Aerial Development Program. They moved to Lake Placid as teenagers in 2009 — Bohonnon from Connecticut, Caldwell from Virginia — and were competing on the world cup within a few years. Caldwell qualified for the 2010 Olympics when she was 16. Bohonnon was 18 when he qualified for his first Olympic team in 2014, where he finished fifth. Caldwell also qualified for the Sochi Games. She finished 10th in both Vancouver and Sochi.

With the Hurricane and The Daddy in their bags of tricks, Bohonnon and Caldwell are on the list of athletes who could win an Olympic medal in PyeongChang — should they be named to the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. Same goes for McKinnon, who won a silver medal at the 2015 world championships, and 2017 aerials world champion Jonathon Lillis.

“I obviously wish these world cups went quite a bit better and had a lot of the results that I’ve gotten used to in the past,” said Bohonnon. “But I’m really happy with my jumping and hoping to continue that.”

The aerialists named to the Olympic team will remain in Lake Placid to train for two weeks before flying to Korea. Caldwell is optimistic that the team will “pull it together,” pointing out that they were in a similar slump last winter before the 2017 world championships, where both Caldwell and Lillis won.

“I have some good opportunities to figure out what’s actually going wrong out there because I’m jumping out of my mind,” she said. “I’m doing everything right. I’m landing in training, I just need to put it all together.”

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.

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