PARK CITY – The disappointment of missing the World Cup super final by three points still stung, when Kiley McKinnon learned her Olympic dream was a reality.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” said the 22-year-old aerial skier after mathematically clinching her spot on the U.S. Olympic team with an eighth-place finish. “I didn’t get the results I was hoping for, but to make the Olympic team Words can’t even describe how it feels.”
The U.S. team had three men and four women make the World Cup finals at Deer Valley Friday night, but only two women and one man made the super final, although it was by the slimmest margins.
The aerial final consists of 12 skiers who compete for six Super Final spots. Athletes cannot use the same jump in the different rounds of competition. Park City resident Ashley Caldwell qualified for the finals with the highest score and the second-toughest trick.
She competed in finals with the toughest jump for women, a triple twisting triple, and fell backward on the landing, which meant missing the Super Final by .13 of a point.
“I was training really well,” Caldwell said. “I got a full-double-full-full off which is a big deal doing the highest DD (degree of difficulty) out there. Doing this jump specifically, I was moving just a little too fast, went a little too big and slapped back and got seventh.”
Caldwell decided even before the season started that she didn’t want to change her jumps based on what her competitors were landing. She felt it gave her the best chance at success to compete with her best jumps every time she stands on the hillside. “This is a tough sport,” she said. “I’m trying to get the most reward that I can because I’m physically competent enough and technically good enough to go out and do tricks that the guys do. That build up is tough. I’m going to take crashes. I wish that I look less crashes, and I wish I landed and won more events. But I’d rather be pushing myself every time.”
She said the Olympics will require the type of jumps she’s competing with to win.
“When the Olympics are on, you’re going to need 100 points, or over 100 points, so I’m positioning myself well so that I can have the degree of difficulty to do that. I feel better every jump. I feel less scared. I perform more jumps well.”
China’s Mengtao XU, who has won at Deer Valley twice before, earned the victory Friday night landing a triple and earning a score of 11.21 points. Kristina Spiridonova earned silver 88.47, while Fanyu Kong finished third with a score of 82.36.
Park City native Madison Olsen was heartbreakingly close to her first podium, missing bronze by less than one point. She got her first look at the sport when she was just seven when her family bought tickets to the aerials at Deer Valley.
“I couldn’t ask for a better crowd,” she said. “It was awesome. I’m a little bummed to miss the podium by a spot, but I’m super happy I landed all my jumps.”
On the men’s side, Russian Maxim Burov earned the victory with a score of 131.67, while China’s Guangpu Qi was second with 130.77 points. Anton Kushnir, Belarus, was third with 124.78.
U.S. skier Jonathon Lillis, the reigning World Champion, earned a spot in the Super Finals, but fell on his landing and finished sixth with a score of 72.85.
U.S. skier Zachary Surdell, 20, was competing in his first World Cup when he skied off the largest kicker on the mountainside, hit his head on the jump and flew into a crowd of coaches and medical personnel standing adjacent to the kicker. U.S. officials said he had a concussion, but was alert as medical personnel took him off the mountain in a sled.
While it was a frustrating night for most of the U.S. athletes, all of them are capable of tricks that could land them on an Olympic podium.
“I didn’t need to go that big,” Caldwell said, “but I’d rather get seventh doing my biggest tricks than get third doing not big tricks.”