Kiley McKinnon hopes for third podium | ParkRecord.com

Kiley McKinnon hopes for third podium

Last year at the Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup aerials competition, Chinese women swept the podium en route to taking three of the top five spots at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

In this post-Olympic season, U.S. aerialist Kiley McKinnon hopes to flip the script when World Cup aerials return to Deer Valley on Thursday night.

McKinnon has already found success at the World Cup level this season, snagging a second-place and third-place finish at a competition in Beijing Dec. 20-21, her first time ever being on the podium at that level.

Facing a unique setting in the Bird’s Nest, where the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics was held, McKinnon had two of the best performances of her career.

"It was my second time competing in the Bird’s Nest," the 19-year-old Connecticut native said. "It’s just crazy competing in the Bird’s Nest. A lot of people don’t get to say they’ve competed in a place where the Opening Ceremonies were held. Also, competing on scaffolding like that [instead of on natural snow] is so different than any other site we compete on. The crowd is also much bigger than a lot of the crowds we have. Everything about that event is just amazing."

But the most amazing part for McKinnon this time around was finishing on the podium twice, taking bronze in the individual competition and teaming up with Mac Bohonnon and Mike Rossi to take second in the team competition.

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"It’s always awesome to change it up," she said. "We’re always used to seeing the Chinese on the podium, so having two non-Chinese athletes [Danielle Scott of Australia finished second] on the podium the first day was nice to see. [The Chinese] are tough competitors and they’re always on top, so being able to go in there and compete with them and actually do well against them was a pretty great feeling."

McKinnon gives credit to her intense offseason training for helping her take her abilities to the next level this year.

"I think it was really my training over the summer," she said. "I worked really hard to perfect the tricks I was planning on doing on snow this year and I think it all just clicked this summer. I got to train a bunch in Utah too, before we left for China, and I think that helped. It all came together for the competition."

Having a pair of Olympians in Ashley Caldwell and Emily Cook to learn from didn’t hurt either.

"They’re definitely great athletes to look up to," she said. "Emily has been competing for several years and she’s definitely taught me a lot. Now that she’s not competing, she’s still there and still supports us. She’s definitely someone I look up to.

"Same with Ashley. She and I got to room together in China and we’ve become really good friends. I think we learn a lot from each other, so it’s awesome."

Now, with some momentum in her favor, McKinnon hopes to keep her hot streak going. But, she acknowledged, it’s important for her to stay focused and keep working to make sure she remains at the top.

"It definitely has given me some confidence," she said of her podium finishes. "But I don’t want to take it as, ‘Oh, well now that I’ve podiumed both times, I can do it every time.’ I just need to take it competition by competition and really focus on my jumps and try to do as well as I can."

After moving to Park City from Connecticut three years ago in order to be closer to the aerials training facility at the Utah Olympic Park and all the U.S. coaches, McKinnon is excited to compete in her new hometown.

"Jumping in front of the Deer Valley crowd is always really fun," she said. "My family comes out and my friends come and watch — it’s a really cool experience. It’s cool having the U.S. fans here cheering for you, too. They always get excited to see us do well, so it’s fun to compete in front of them."

If McKinnon is able to qualify for the finals, fans will get to see her attempt her two toughest tricks, she said.

"I’m just going to try to do my best," she said. "I would love to be able to podium again, but you just have to take it jump by jump. Every jump has to go well and you have to try the best you can. I usually try to qualify with my second-hardest trick, which is a full-full, and then I’ll save my hardest tricks, which are a full-double-full and a double-full-full, for the final rounds."

Should McKinnon find her way back to the podium, she said, it would be a career highlight.

"It would be a really incredible experience if I was able to get a podium or even win," she said. "I’d really be honored."

The Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup competitions begin on Thursday night with the aerials event. The athletes will take to the White Owl jumps at 8 p.m. for the finals. Mogul and dual mogul competitions will follow on Friday and Saturday nights. For more information, visit http://www.deervalley.com .

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