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Aerialists prepare for takeoff

World Cup tour makes annual stop in Lake Placid

January 19, 2018
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Let the show begin.

The top aerials skiers on the planet will soar above the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex as the World Cup freestyle tour makes its regular January visit to Lake Placid today and Saturday.

There will be quite a bit more on the line this time around for many of the athletes, including the United States contingent, as the competition is the final event before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Not only are trips to the podium up for grabs, berths in next month's Olympics could also be won or lost based on performances this weekend.

Article Photos

Akmarzhan Kalmurzayeva of Kazakhstan takes flight during a training jump Wednesday in preparation for the World Cup aerials competition being held today and Saturday in Lake Placid.
(News photo — Lou Reuter)

At age 24, Ashley Caldwell leads the Americans onto the hill and will be looking to nail down her third straight trip to the Winter Olympics. Caldwell spent much of her development days as a Lake Placid resident while learning the sport. She won her first World Cup competition here in January 2011 and heads into the weekend as the defending aerials champion after claiming victory at the venue here a year ago.

Although Caldwell said she is close to locking up a trip to South Korea, it's not a done deal. The United States freestyle team will be sending a total of 30 athletes to the Olympics, but that number includes men and women in the disciplines of aerials, moguls, slopestyle, halfpipe and ski cross.

"I have one podium and I'm looking for a couple more so I can seal that Olympic qualification criteria," Caldwell said after finishing her training session of the week Tuesday, Jan. 16. "This is our last two events and they name a team next Monday. We're competing for 30 spots between men and women.

"Hopefully, aerials will get between six and eight," Caldwell continued. "We had three in Sochi, and we had eight in Vancouver, so that's a dramatic difference. It takes our whole team kind of competing against those other disciplines to really be able to get four and four, so we really need to put up some good results this weekend."

Two Connecticut aerialists, Mac Bohonnon and Kiley McKinnon, could also be among the top performers in Lake Placid. Bohonnon placed fifth four years ago in Sochi as a first-time Olympian and comes to the Olympic Village after winning silver here a year ago. Bohonnon was runner-up to Anton Kushnir of Belarus. Kushnir is the defending men's Olympic aerials champion and will compete in his fourth Winter Games next month in South Korea.

Bohonnon finished fifth in Sochi at the 2014 Olympics.

McKinnon, who won her first World Cup aerials title earlier this month in Moscow, is the first member of the aerials team to have already met the Olympic qualification criteria based on her eighth-place finish last weekend in Deer Valley, Utah. She'll be a first-time Olympian in South Korea.

Caldwell said it's been an up-and-down season so far, but another strong performance here could go a long way toward a possible Olympic medal season. Caldwell said when she is feeling well, strong and confident, her tricks are among the biggest and most difficult attempted by any female aerialist in the world.

"We're jumping 60 feet in the air trying to do as many twists and flips as you can and land on your feet safely, be really straight and make it look easy," said Caldwell, who was the overall women's World Cup points champion during the 2015-16 season. "If I make this team it will be my third Olympic games. My chances are pretty good but nothing is official until you're walking in there at opening ceremonies."

After finishing 12th in her Olympic debut at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 10th four years ago at the Sochi games, Caldwell said she's already been focusing on what it would take to reach, or maybe even stand on the top step of the podium next month in South Korea. Caldwell said she knows she has what it takes to achieve the feat, but also realizes one slip up in the sport of aerials can make all the difference.

"You always want to visualize what your goals are," she said. "I want to go out there and do three straight triples. That's the big goal, and what everybody else does around me, that will determine where I finish, but first I have to get there. I have the degree of difficultly that it would take to be able to win. I'm confident, but any given day, the best person can fall. I'm confident but also realizing I have a lot of work to do."



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