Jonathon Lillis turns in best-ever finish
January 15, 2014
Maybe Jonathon Lillis should get sick more often.
After the 19-year-old aerialist battled illness and sleeplessness during the week leading up to Friday’s aerial competition at the Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup, he jumped to his best-ever finish, taking fourth place in the men’s competition.
"To be honest, it was the worst week of the season for me," he said. "I had a really bad cold and was skipping training. I couldn’t go – I was super sick. Monday night, right before training, I had food poisoning and was throwing up. No sleep."
That affected his normal training routine, causing him to practice less than usual before Friday’s event.
"I got four training jumps on the triple before the day of, which is half of what we normally get," he said.
Despite the lack of training, Lillis decided to go for it, throwing down some of the biggest tricks of his career in front of a huge Park City crowd.
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"I had nothing to lose, really," he said. "It’s the Olympic year and it’s the hometown crowd – just show what you have. I find when I go bigger and push harder, the results are better than if I try to play it safe."
Even with several of his competitors crashing during qualifiers and the semifinals, Lillis said he never considered changing his strategy.
"God didn’t make me really fit or really tall or muscular," he said. "I can’t run very far. But he made me pretty durable. I’ve crashed almost harder than anyone on a pretty consistent basis, so I don’t really tend to worry. The plan didn’t change. What I planned on doing three weeks ago to now still hasn’t changed."
Because of the missed training, Lillis went with a full-full-full on his last jump, his easier option. But, he slipped on the landing, causing him to finish fourth.
"I had one more big trick, but, due to being sick, I couldn’t train it, couldn’t get it ready," he said. "So we figured we’d play it safe. It wasn’t a perfect jump in the final four, but just to make it there was awesome."
Anton Kushnir of Belarus won the gold medal, with Qi Guangpu of China finishing in second place and Alexei Grishin of Belarus taking home a bronze medal.
Though Lillis narrowly missed claiming his first podium finish, he was still excited by the way he jumped on Friday night.
"It’s a big confidence booster," he said. "The beginning of the season was rough."
Now, the former moguls skier, who switched to aerials six years ago, is beginning to feel more and more comfortable with his new sport.
"Always, my lifestyle and everything I do has pushed me towards going all out all the time," he said. "Even in moguls when I was younger, I drifted towards the air section of the course always – getting 15th place in the competition but getting the most points in the air. [Aerials] was just a better fit for me."
He’s hoping he gets a chance to show just how much he’s improved this season in front of the world at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
"I’ve got as big of tricks as anyone," he said. "And, on any given day, I’m as good as anyone. I can do it. It’s all inside me."
On the women’s side, the superfinals were dominated by Chinese aerialists. Cheng Shuang took first place, Zhang Xin claimed silver and Xu Mengtao finished third to round out an all-Chinese podium. Emily Cook was the American with the highest finish, taking seventh place.