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Caldwell, Lillis capture silver in aerials worlds

News file photo — Lou Reuter Ashley Caldwell looks up the landing hill during an appearance in World Cup action in January, 2018 in Lake Placid.

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN — Wednesday at the FIS World Freestyle Championships marked a significant outing for the United States men’s and women’s aerials team.

Both Chris Lillis and Ashley Caldwell gave the competition everything they had and ended the day with two silver medals for the U.S. in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The World Championship “best of” format resembles that of the Olympics, yet slightly differs from the standard World Cup competition.

In total, 12 athletes advance to the final from qualifications, with the opportunity to perform a second trick, as long as it does not repeat their first. Their best scores are used to narrow down the athletes to a top six for the super final round, and the best score of that group walks away with the gold.

Caldwell, a three-time Olympian, knew she could land the most difficult trick in women’s aerial skiing — a back-full-full-full. In the end, gold came down to the cleanest landing, as Australia’s Laura Peel also threw a triple. Caldwell came up short of gold by only a few points behind Peel, but was just as excited, having not thrown a triple in competition in years, and missing the landing in her last competition at the Deer Valley World Cup.

News file photo — Lou Reuter Chris Lillis competes in World Cup aerials action at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex on Jan. 19, 2019.

Russia’s Liubov Nikitina rounded out the podium in third.

“I’m ecstatic,” Caldwell said. “I gave it all out there. My all. It’s a great site in Kazakhstan but there are always challenges. I am just glad I hung together and put down an awesome jump and got on the podium.”

Headed into the super final, 20-year-old Megan Smallhouse was barely nudged out, after landing two clean back lay fulls in her World Championship debut. Smallhouse ended the day in seventh overall, a solid showing after two well-executed jumps at the highest degree of difficulty in her repertoire. 

Prior to finals, Lillis chose to not partake in the first jump, having felt less than 100% in the morning. But a second jump was all he needed to land a spot in the super final, stomping the landing of a back-double-full- full. 

After a bad crash in Yaroslavl, Russia earlier this season, the 22-year-old from Rochester had been working to make a comeback, practicing a quint twisting triple backflip all summer.

Lillis knew that if he made it into the super final at World Championships, that would be the trick he would throw. And that’s exactly what he did. Amongst a podium of quint triples, Lillis’ stellar performance was enough to earn him a silver medal, behind Russia’s Maxim Burov and ahead of Russia’s Pavel Krotov.

In addition, Lillis became the first American to land a quint in the competition since the late Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist.

“I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out,” exclaimed Lillis. “It’s been a tough and really trying time for our team and we were able to put some jumps together. Ashley Caldwell coming in second place and me being able to throw that quint for the first time and put it to my feet. Man for a second I thought I had it but I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.” 

“Out of all events, this is exactly what we were targeting all year,” added Lillis. “To be able to do [the quint], land it, and put it down at my feet makes me feel like I’m moving in the right direction and I hope to do a similar thing at the Olympics next year.”

Lillis’ American teammate Eric Loughran hard backslapped for his first jump, and chose to take a back-full-full-double-full in his second jump, a trick he hadn’t practiced in weeks, and only landed a handful of times in his life. Nailing the trick was big for Loughran, but not enough to earn him a spot in the super finals with Lillis.

Loughran finished the day in seventh, his career-best at a World Championship competition.