Justin Schoenefeld missed out on reaching the podium by just one spot at last year’s world cup aerials event in Minsk, Belarus.
Focused on putting down his best jumps when he needed to, the 21-year-old from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, launched his way not only to the podium, but also to the top spot on the same hill on Saturday.
It was quite a way to get one’s first-ever podium finish at a world cup event, and offered further proof that the newcomer to the major international aerials scene is just getting started.
Prior to Saturday, that fourth-place finish just one day shy of a year ago exactly was his best to date, with one ninth- and one 10th-place finish falling behind that.
He wasn’t the only one American who reached the podium, either. Chris Lillis came in third.
Lillis had won the Minsk World Cup on Feb. 20, 2016, which was the last world cup victory by a U.S. man.
Saturday’s competition came without much chance to prepare. Organizers canceled the first day of training on Wednesday because of springlike temperatures in Minsk, then limited Thursday and Friday’s training days to just three jumps in order to keep the snow in the best condition possible for the competition.
Schoenefeld was ranked fifth after the qualifying rounds on Saturday morning, then turned things up for the nighttime final under the lights. He finished with a two-run total score of 124.89, narrowly beating Canada’s Lewis Irving with a score of 124.43. Lillis scored 122.17 between the two runs.
Last year was Schoenefeld’s first on the U.S. ski team after three wins and the overall title on the North American Tour in 2018. He finished his rookie season on the world cup tour ranked No. 10 overall.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.