Aerialists search for World Cup starts
While the top U.S. aerialists competed in Beijing, China, in this weekend’s World Cup opener, a slew of younger Team USA athletes were at the Utah Olympic Park for a pair of North American Cup competitions.
Athletes were competing to impress the U.S. coaches and earn points that could lead to future World Cup starts. In the four competitions (two men’s, two women’s), four different winners were crowned.
In Friday afternoon’s competitions, Tyra Izor and Harrison Smith won the women’s and men’s competitions, respectively. Izor was joined on the podium by U.S. teammates Madison Varmette (second) and Avery Driscoll (third). Smith was joined by Christopher Lillis (second) and Nicholas Novak (third).
In Saturday afternoon’s competitions, Winter Vinecki won the women’s gold medal and Lillis took first in the men’s contest. Vinecki was joined on the podium by Driscoll (second) and Izor (third). Lillis was joined by his younger brother, Michael, in second place and Patrick O’Flynn in third place.
In Saturday’s competitions, aerialists had to deal with strong winds. For Christopher Lillis, that was a new experience.
"It was my first day doing triples in the wind," he said. "I just started getting off that jump, and never on a day as windy as this, obviously, so I’m excited it worked out. I’ve been jumping for a while, so I kind of knew how to deal with it, but I’m glad it all worked out."
Lillis credited his coaches for helping him choose the correct starting spot and the correct jumps to do based on the conditions.
"It has everything to do with my coaches," he said. "They adjust me up and down [on the in-run] depending on the wind and snow conditions — all that stuff. It’s just up to me to do the jumps."
Lillis, 17, said he’s been searching for strong results on the NorAm tour for a while now.
"It’s definitely a big deal for me," he said. "I’ve been competing in selections since I was 14. It’s good to finally have some good finishes and keep jumping well. There’s a long winter to come."
Lillis comes from a strong aerials family. In addition to sharing the podium with his younger brother on Saturday, older brother Jonathon snagged a pair of 15th-place finishes in Beijing on the World Cup tour. Lillis said he hopes to make his way to the world tour with Jonathon.
"It’s something we’ve talked about for a while," he said. "It’d be awesome, obviously."
Based on the weekend’s results, Lillis might get a chance to jump with his older brother soon. After a holiday break, the FIS Freestyle World Cup tour comes to Lake Placid, New York, Jan. 14-16.
"After this, I’ll be going home for Christmas break, obviously," Lillis said. "Then I’ll come back for a week of training [in Park City] and then head to the Lake Placid World Cup, regardless of whether I compete in it — that’s for the coaches to decide. I’ll forerun or compete or train or whatever."
The FIS Freestyle World Cup comes to Deer Valley Feb. 4-6, 2016. Thursday will feature moguls competitions. Aerialists will compete on Friday night and Saturday’s competition will be dual moguls.
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