Sky’s the limit for U.S. Aerials Team
U.S. aerialist Mac Bohonnon has been living in Park City for two and a half years now, but locals haven’t gotten to see the best the young jumper has to offer just yet.
Bohonnon, who finished fifth at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, said his improbable run to Russia began shortly after a disappointing finish at the 2014 Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup event.
"Three days after Deer Valley is when it all finally started coming together," he said. "Going into the winter, I was definitely the fifth or sixth guy in terms of people we thought were going to the Olympics. But, at the end of the day, I was the only one with a World Cup podium. I got second at the second-to-last World Cup [in Val St. Come, Canada]. That was part of the qualifying process."
After all was said and done in Russia, Bohonnon, at just 18 years old, had finished fifth overall. Now, in a post-Olympic year, the now-19-year-old said he’s ready to take the next step in his career.
"There’s definitely no post-Olympic letdown at all," he said. "I’m more motivated than ever. This is the first winter I’m going to compete on the entire World Cup tour. I’ve competed in the North American ones last year, but didn’t get to compete in any of the ones in Europe. We also have World Championships this year in Austria, which will be my first."
Bohonnon not only wants to compete at the World Cup events and the World Championships, where he’ll debut a few new jumps, including a quintuple-twisting triple backflip, he wants to take his place among the best in the world.
"By the end of the winter, I hope to have a crystal globe as the World Cup overall winner and hopefully be a world champion," he said.
But the young aerialist will have some competition from his U.S. teammates, notably 20-year-old Michael Rossi. Parkites may remember Rossi, who has lived in Park City for three straight winters now, from his third-place finish at the Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup event in 2013.
After suffering an ankle injury that cost him a lot of water ramp training, Rossi is looking to gain some consistency this season.
"I was out for a good portion of the summer," he said. "I didn’t really plan on getting any new tricks, though, but I’ve perfected the ones I did last year. Hopefully this year I’ll land a lot more consistently."
If he can indeed land those jumps, the biggest of which will be a double-full-full-full (a quadruple-twisting triple backflip), Rossi expects good results to follow.
"I want to get on the podium as many times as possible," he said. "With my skill level, if I land, I’ll do well. It’s all a matter of landing if you don’t land, you can’t win."
On the women’s side of things, three-time Olympian Emily Cook has retired, leaving a big hole to fill. But, as with the men’s squad, young jumpers are stepping up. This year’s women’s team will be led by 21-year-old Ashley Caldwell and 19-year-old Kiley McKinnon.
U.S. coach Todd Ossian said he can’t wait to see what this year’s aerials teams can accomplish.
"There’s a ton of excitement for the season," he said. "I would say that our team is young, but they have quite a bit of experience now. We’re definitely expecting a great season."
And, he added, though the Olympics are over, the World Championships in Austria in January are still a huge deal.
"The U.S. is kind of interesting in that the World Championships aren’t a bigger deal," he said. "With most of the countries that are competing in aerial skiing, the general culture looks at World Championships as just as important as the Olympics. We prepare and treat it just like an Olympic Games."
After only Cook, Caldwell and Bohonnon qualified to compete at the 2014 Olympics, Ossian said Team USA is working hard to make sure more than three jumpers qualify in 2018.
"It’s extremely tough to qualify for the Olympics because of the Olympic quota," he said. "But I was disappointed we didn’t get to bring a bigger team. It lit a little bit of a fire under us to work harder and we did that this summer. I expect that, in 2018, we’ll be able to name a much bigger team."
The aerials season will begin Dec. 20 and 21 in Beijing, where teams will compete in the Bird’s Nest, a stadium with a retractable roof designed for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Having a competition indoors with the takeoff point constructed on scaffolding presents some unique challenges, as Rossi discovered last year.
"Last year, I didn’t hit one takeoff the whole time," he said. "I was scared of the scaffolding and freaked out. The actual site is the same as a normal site, but the scaffolding adds a level of danger, I guess. When somebody lands, you can feel it at the top shaking. That kind of messed with my head."
But Rossi said the shock value of the Beijing competition has worn off now and he expects better results this time around.
"I’ve been over it thousands, millions of times in my mind and have definitely gained more confidence," he said. "I’ll at least do some good jumps this time."
Ossian said he understands the jumpers’ apprehension, but, he noted, at the end of the day, there are still strict safety standards that must be met.
"We really just remind them that the specifications of the aerials site are the exact same as any jump site," he said. "Everything is the same. It’s certainly a little more scary, but you really have to remind yourself the end run is the same length and the jumps are the same size."
Then, he said, there’s the added adrenaline of the big crowds to deal with.
"That’s a really, really cool event inside the Bird’s Nest," he said. "We had a huge crowd, close to 40,000 people, at that event."
The U.S. Aerials Team will leave for China on Dec. 14. The 2015 Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup event will take place Jan. 8-10.
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