Mac Bohonnon and Kiley McKinnon: From classmates to champions
Mac Bohonnon and Kiley McKinnon, the 2015 World Cup aerial skiing champions, both attended Island Avenue Elementary School in Madison, Connecticut, where they even had the same teacher in first grade.
Now that they’re both 19 and on top of their sport, it seems like more than just coincidence that such a small school, located only about a quarter of a mile from the beach, could produce two World Cup champions.
So, did McKinnon and Bohonnon plan their athletic careers when they should have been learning math and science? Did they know they’d be standing atop a podium in Belarus hoisting crystal globes before their 20th birthdays?
"Oh yeah," McKinnon laughed. "We knew."
"Our teacher had to split us up so we would focus on school and stop talking about aerial skiing," Bohonnon joked.
Really, though, the journey started much later. When they were 15 years old, Bohonnon and McKinnon were chatting on Facebook, catching up on what was happening in each other’s lives.
"As Mac likes to take credit for, he’s the one who got me into the sport of aerials," McKinnon said. "We were talking on Facebook and catching up and he told me he had been training for aerials. I didn’t know much about it, but I had been a gymnast and a skier, so I knew what all the jumps were that he was telling me about.
"I told my parents about it and they said, ‘Yeah, let’s go see what it’s all about.’ I watched them train and was like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that.’ I started that summer and I’ve been doing it ever since."
On March 1, in Belarus, the pair of American jumpers and lifelong friends became the first Americans in 20 years to simultaneously win World Cup titles in aerials — you’d have to go back to 1995, when Trace Worthington and Nikki Stone both won, to find a similar Team USA accomplishment.
Bohonnon credits the American coaches for sticking with a development plan and getting both him and McKinnon to the top of the sport.
"It’s been a slow few years for the aerials team," he said. "Our coaches invested so much into this program, and, after the Vancouver Olympics, our head coach, Todd Ossian, had this vision. It took a few years and he took a little bit of heat, but we all had faith in him and he had faith in us. This is just the first phase of our development program."
Though both Bohonnon and McKinnon had consistently strong results throughout the season, it took a while for them to realize they were in contention for overall titles. Bohonnon said he didn’t think about it until the final competition.
"I had won the World Cup in Moscow the week before and I knew I was close," he said. "One of my teammates let me know how close I was — I was 29 points away from the World Cup title with just one event left. That’s when it dawned on me. Beforehand, I was just taking it one event at a time — I had a few podiums, but it never really crossed my mind."
McKinnon started thinking about the possibility a few weeks before, after her only non-podium finish of the season, ironically.
"At Lake Placid, I was not on the podium," she said. "I didn’t have my best competition there. Even though I didn’t perform well, though, that’s where I received the yellow bib [signifying the overall leader] and, at that point, I guess it came into my mind that I could win it because I was in first. Then, once I podiumed in Moscow and kept the yellow bib and only had one competition left at that point, I knew there was a good chance I could win it."
While McKinnon struggled at Lake Placid, where both jumpers learned aerial skiing, Bohonnon took the leap that propelled him toward the title, winning his first-ever World Cup event.
"It was definitely very disappointing not doing very well [in Lake Placid]," McKinnon said. "But it definitely made it a lot better seeing Mac get his first podium "
"It wasn’t my first podium!" Bohonnon quickly interjected.
"Sorry, his first win, my bad," McKinnon laughed. "That made it better."
As excited as both athletes were to win their titles, they’re even more excited about the success the team had this year. In addition to Bohonnon and McKinnon’s accomplishments, Alex Bowen was named the men’s Rookie of the Year, Ashley Caldwell finished second to McKinnon in the women’s overall standings and the Americans won the Nations Cup, given to the team with the best season results.
"To go out there this year and get, I think, 15 podiums among our whole team and to win the Nations Cup, literally the title of Best Team in the World, was extremely cool for us. The depth of our team is huge. Everyone’s jumping so well. It’s not like we have these two or three athletes and then no one else. [Kiley and I] had the best results this season, but we have a lot of jumpers who are capable of getting the top spot and that’s cool for us to see."
McKinnon sees the team’s depth as a great asset. She anticipates it’ll help keep the Americans at the top of the sport as the 2018 Olympics approach.
"It’s going to help a lot," she said. "We’ve kind of been under the radar for the past few years. I think us getting top spots on the World Cup tour and having Ashley getting second and Alex getting Rookie of the Year and our team winning the overall Nations Cup, it’s just fueling the fire for our team. Coming into the next season, I think more people are actually going to be watching us and paying attention and rooting us on because they know we can be successful."
But, just because they’re team players and love their teammates, McKinnon and Bohonnon have no plans to cede their titles next season.
"Yeah, we did well this season, but we could do even better jumps next season," McKinnon said.
"We really want to defend our World Cup titles next year," Bohonnon added. "It’s equally important to us to win the globes again next season. To know we’re heading in the right direction is extremely motivating, but we could always do better. For me, instead of winning two World Cups, maybe I’ll try to win them all."
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Park City native Sebastian Saucedo fulfilled his dream of playing for his local team. Now he’s trying to take a step forward playing in Mexico.