Kiley McKinnon clinches Olympic berth despite missing Deer Valley super finals |

Kiley McKinnon clinches Olympic berth despite missing Deer Valley super finals

Aerialist Kiley McKinnon spots her landing during her jump in the finals of the Visa FIS Freestyle World Cup Aerials at Deer Valley Resort Friday evening, January 12, 2018. (Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
Tanzi Propst |

Sometimes even if you lose, you win. Just ask U.S. aerialist Kiley McKinnon. She didn’t have her best performance on Friday at the FIS Visa International Freestyle Ski World Cup at Deer Valley, but she still won the best prize available to the U.S. athletes: a trip to the Olympic Games.

Historically, she’s had mixed performances at Deer Valley – she took second last season and in 2015, but finished eighth and 13th in the two-day event in 2016.

This year, she fell short of making the final round of six competitors, taking eighth overall, but because no other U.S. women stood on the podium, she clinched a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” she told press at the bottom of the White Owl run following her performance. “Yeah, I didn’t get the result I was hoping for, but to make the Olympic team, words can’t even describe how it feels.”

She had just found out she was going to the Winter Games seconds before the interview, when Caitlin Furin of U.S. Ski and Snowboard informed her she had mathematically won her spot.

McKinnon said she had been waiting for this moment “a long time.”

She had dislocated her elbow in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Games and lost her chance at competing in Sochi, Russia.

“So four years later — a long four years later — I’m so happy that I was able to keep it together and qualify for my first Olympic team,” she said.

The 22-year-old has been training with the U.S. team since the age of 16. A year before, she had received an unexpected Facebook message from aerial skier Mac Bohonnon, who grew up near McKinnon in New Haven, Connecticut.

“I didn’t really know what aerials was,” McKinnon said. “(Bohonnon) left in eighth grade to pursue his dreams of competing, and one day he reached out to me and told me to come try it out, and I guess the rest is history. He told me he was in Lake Placid doing aerials, and I was like, ‘What the heck is that?’”

Bohonnon knew McKinnon was both a gymnast and a skier and correctly assumed she would be a good match for the sport. She made the team a year later and promptly began competing at the World Cup level. Since then, she has moved steadily through the ranks and into the sport’s most elite levels. Last year she took fourth at the World Championships in Spain.

On Friday, McKinnon stuck her full-full jump in the finals round to earn a score of 76.54, but it wasn’t enough to advance to the super finals.

“I was happy with my competition jump,” she said. “I was glad to get it down to my feet and make some progress for the next one.”

After the super finals finished, she received word she would go to the Winter Games.

“I didn’t know it was official,” she said. “(My parents) definitely didn’t know it was official. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

Whether she believed it or not, her parents did.

The McKinnons had prepared for Kiley’s success and had already purchased plane tickets to the Winter Games. Just in case she won, or in this case, lost.

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