Dream season continues for Chris Lillis
To call U.S. aerialist Chris Lillis’s rise to the top of the aerials world meteoric wouldn’t do it justice.
In December, Lillis snagged his best-ever result when he won a U.S. Selections event at the Utah Olympic Park. By the end of February, the 17 year old had made his way to the top of a World Cup podium in Minsk, Belarus.
For Lillis, the impact hasn’t fully set in.
"It’s been a whirlwind of a season," he said. "I was very excited about winning [selections] and doing well there. Then, at Deer Valley, I’d gotten my best career result (ninth place) in my first World Cup. That was pretty awesome. Then I qualified from that event to go overseas and compete in Moscow and Belarus. In Moscow, I got a seventh, which was the best result of my career, so I was ecstatic about that. Then in Belarus, I won. I’m still kind of coming to grips with it. It’s definitely been a crazy season."
Going into the competition in Minsk, Lillis said he hadn’t been jumping his best in training. But, he added, that didn’t take away any of his confidence.
"I was not training very well, but I managed to put it down in the contest and do well," he said. "We’ve all done it a billion times so we all know how it’s supposed to go. If you don’t land a jump, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything toward the next jump. My coach, Joe Davies, always says to me, ‘The only jump that matters is the next one.’ That goes both ways. If you do a really sweet jump in training, that’s great, but the only jump that matters is the next one. If you do a terrible jump in training or crash really hard, it doesn’t matter — the only jump that matters is the next one."
In the superfinals in Minsk, Lillis landed a jump that he felt would earn him his first-career World Cup medal. He figured he’d sneak onto the podium in third place, but the judges had a bigger reward in mind.
"I landed my jump and it was maybe a little bit lower of a degree of difficulty than some of the other jumpers," he said. "I was jumping with jumpers who were significantly more experienced than I was. I knew it was a nice jump, so I assumed I’d get on the podium. The last jumper to go (Oleksandr Abramenko) had actually already secured the world title, so I was never feeling comfortable until that last jump happened."
After winning, Lillis said the first person to congratulate him was his brother Jon, who had recently earned his first-career World Cup podium finish in Moscow. Lillis said competing alongside his brother has been one of the best parts of making the jump to the World Cup tour.
"It’s nice having that support system," he said. "I can always talk to Jon and he knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not like talking to any other family member — it’s talking to a fellow competitor who knows what you mean when you’re talking about your struggles and who is always there for you."
That said, a friendly rivalry may be building between the Lillis brothers.
"In Moscow, I jumped and I was sitting in sixth place," Chris said. "The top six go to the superfinals. [Jon] qualified in first and was the last jumper to go and he knocked me off and I ended up getting seventh. But he went on to get his first podium, so I was very excited for him.
"The next week [in Minsk], I qualified third and he qualified fourth. He went and was sitting in sixth after his jump and then I landed my jump and actually knocked him out [of the superfinals] and he ended up getting seventh and I went on to get my first podium. It was kind of funny how that worked out. He was so stoked for me and vice versa. It was an amazing experience at both events."
The U.S. Aerials Team might soon add another Lillis brother to the mix. Michael, Jon and Chris’s younger brother, has had some solid results on the North American Cup tour this year. Chris said it’d be great to have all three brothers competing at a high level in a couple of years when PyeongChang, South Korea, hosts the 2018 Winter Olympics.
"That definitely sounds good if that’s the way it can go," he said. "Sharing an Olympics with your brothers — that’s always been the big dream."
Before he sets his sights too firmly on 2018, though, Chris said he has to focus on ending this season with a flourish. Lillis will compete in the NorAm Cup finals this weekend at the Utah Olympic Park.
"I’ll do the same tricks I did in the World Cup at NorAms," he said. "After winning the World Cup, I’d say that more motivated me than satisfied me for the season and it made me look farther ahead than I had in the past. I still have an infinite amount of things I want to learn. I just want to keep training and keep my season going."
Lillis added that winning a World Cup was great, but if he wants to do well next year and qualify for the Olympics in 2018, he’ll need to add bigger jumps to his repertoire.
"I still have three more tricks at least I need to do before the Olympics — big tricks I’ve never done before," he said. "This year, I did two different variations of triple-twisting triple [flips]. Next year, I hope to do two different variations of quad-twisting triples and then, if that goes well, I’ll try to do a quintuple-twisting triple by 2018. Obviously those are big goals and aspirations, but it’s great to take all this momentum into the offseason and into next season."
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