U.S. aerialists look for success on home snow
It’s been a strange season for the U.S. Aerials Team so far. After competing in mid-December in a pair of World Cup events in Beijing, the only January contest (scheduled for Lake Placid, New York) was canceled.
As next week’s Deer Valley World Cup approaches, the U.S. squad is eager to start competing again. Following a month of training at the Utah Olympic Park, the athletes are ready to show off their perfected jumps.
"It’s been really nice to kind of relax," defending World Cup overall champion Mac Bohonnon said. "The beginning of the season is usually really crazy for us. We get on snow and we’ve got like three weeks to get ready to compete. Then we go to Beijing, which is always a tough trip. It’s been nice to kind of catch up and catch our breath. I feel like we’ve had really awesome training. To be able to have a full month of training on snow in the winter, we almost never do that. It’s going to be huge going into next weekend."
Ashley Caldwell has also enjoyed the time to train despite the fact that she won the first event in Beijing and finished second in the other.
"I didn’t jump all summer long due to a neck injury," she said. "When I came out this winter, it was kind of just about getting up to pace really fast since I hadn’t really jumped since nationals last year. Just having this month of training has been good — just having the time and not feeling rushed."
Last year, Caldwell won the women’s competition, with teammate Kiley McKinnon finishing second. In the men’s event, Bohonnon snagged a silver medal. Both are excited to return to Deer Valley and hope to lead another strong American performance on home snow.
"We say it all the time — Deer Valley is the best site we go to," Caldwell said. "It’s not just about the site, though — it’s about the volunteers and the entire resort and having the home-field advantage. You have a lot of friends and family cheering you on, which is why it’s such a great event."
Due to the Lake Placid cancellation, there will be two aerials competitions next week — one on Thursday morning and the other on Friday night. Bohonnon said he’s thrilled to have two chances to compete in front of great American crowds.
"Next weekend is shaping up to be the perfect atmosphere for us, which is going to be awesome," he said. "The crowd gets you so energized. It feels like they do some of the work for you. I’m sure there will be a great crowd Thursday morning, but obviously nothing like what Friday night will be under the lights."
In the women’s events, fans will want to make sure they see Caldwell jump. She said she’s going to attempt the biggest jumps in her arsenal.
"Last year, I completed two triple-twisting triples at that event and it was the first time I’d ever done it," she said. "That in itself was a highlight for me and winning is always really pleasant, too. I’m going to go out and do another triple-twisting triple and try to do it better than I did before."
As one of the only women on the World Cup tour doing triple-twisting triple flips, Caldwell said her competitions are usually all-or-nothing affairs.
"I always joke that if I’m not first, I’m last," she laughed. "I either go big and I do well or I crash and burn. In my eyes, I think that’s cool. I appreciate that and that’s why I do what I do. I push to do triples and go bigger and take the risk because I want the reward."
For Bohonnon, Deer Valley will provide an opportunity to start fresh after disappointing results in Beijing.
"I struggled pretty bad over there and never felt I had the opportunity to be at my best," he said. "It bummed me out, for sure. That’s a tough start to the season. I don’t want to discredit the World Cup in China by any means, but just because there’s been such a big gap between [Beijing and Deer Valley], it does feel like a fresh start to the season."
If Bohonnon can win one or both of the competitions next week, he said it’ll rank among the best moments in his career.
"Lake Placid is really my home site," he said. "That’s where I grew up training and I actually won my first World Cup in Lake Placid. I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life. The second greatest thing I could do in my career for me personally would be to win here at Deer Valley. My family will be out here and so many of my friends are out here."
Even though Caldwell won at Deer Valley last year, she said the feeling never gets old.
"It feels good to win," she said. "The hometown is always awesome. My family always comes out to this event. I’d like to be more consistent this year, so if I won this event, it’d be one more time that I landed some jumps instead of got hurt or crashed. That sounds like a good thing to me."
The Deer Valley World Cup kicks off four straight weeks of competition for the aerials team. Bohonnon said he’s looking forward to finally doing jumps that count.
"I’m really excited," he said. "It’s fast-paced, but it’s so much fun. I feel like that’s when I’m most in the zone. You fall into a rhythm and get used to it. We love competing — that’s why we do all this training. I’m really looking forward to getting to do it finally."
Aerials competitions at Deer Valley will be held Thursday at 10:20 a.m. for the men and 1 p.m. for the women and on Friday at 8 p.m. A moguls event will be held on Thursday at 7 p.m. and a dual moguls contest is scheduled for Saturday night at 7 p.m.
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