U.S. Moguls skier Jaelin Kauf came close to quitting, but is now the fastest woman in the world
It was December of 2014 and Jaelin Kauf was at a crossroads. At 18 years old, she was faced with a decision that would affect the rest of her life.
Would she continue on the path she was on and keep competing in moguls and dual moguls competitions with hopes of making the U.S. National Team? Or would she move on with her life and join her friends at college?
To understand how she came to her decision, it must first be known that Kauf was coming off the worst moguls and dual moguls performances of her life. At an FIS event in Winter Park, Colorado, Kauf finished 31st in moguls and 50th in dual moguls, resulting in her questioning of her career.
“It was the first event of the season and I was already thinking about my future, so I put so much pressure on myself to perform well,” Kauf said. “I was nowhere near ready to make the national team, but I obviously thought differently. … And it became the worst week of my life. It was such a struggle for me that I couldn’t even make it down the course and I ended up just bawling my eyes out.”
While Kauf, 23, loved everything about the skiing competitions, her struggles that December combined with the joy her friends were experiencing in college caused her to consider quitting. She was tired of spending all of her time alone, and thought that rejoining them would make her happy.
But when push came to shove, she chose skiing.
Fast forward five years to the present and it’s safe to say that Kauf made the correct decision. Not only was she an Olympian in 2018, she entered the 2019-20 season as the fastest women’s moguls skier in the world, with legitimate aspirations of making the podium at the upcoming 2022 Olympics.
“I honestly don’t think people know how close I was to quitting, and I’m not even fully sure why I chose to keep skiing. … But I’m so happy I did,” Kauf said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs but I definitely made the right choice. Now, I’m focused on doing what I have to do to put myself in the best possible spot to win an Olympic medal, and that’s just a dream come true.”
Kauf is off to a good start this season with four top-four finishes. Though a World Cup moguls event in China was an outlier where she placed 18th, she’s on a hot streak with three consecutive second-place finishes in her last three races.
Her comeback from the edge of quitting hasn’t come early. She found some success on the Nor-Am Cup during the 2014-15 season, graduating to the World Cup circuit for the following year — she made her World Cup debut on Jan. 23, 2016 in Canada when she took 13th in a moguls event.
“That year really justified me staying with the sport because I really broke out on the World Cup tour after winning U.S. Selections a month prior,” Kauf said. “I was able to podium a few times, which really helped validate me personally that I can compete at the highest of levels. I also won the rookie of the year on the circuit that year, so that was a nice bonus for me and my turnaround from the year before.”
Now Kauf finds herself in a totally different role than in 2014. Before, she was just trying to be competitive in races to prove her worth on any circuit she was competing in. Now when she arrives at competitions, she does not only want greatness, her competitors now expect it.
That change in mindset has been difficult for Kauf as she’s gotten older. She’s found that the more successful she’s become, the higher the expectations and with that comes the added pressure she puts on herself. That pressure can build so much that she’s no longer having fun, which in return causes her to struggle.
Finding that balance has been key to her recent success.
“My confidence definitely goes up and down and wavers at points, and most of the time it comes from putting that much pressure on myself even though I know it’s not good,” Kauf said. “But I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve made my love of skiing stand above the rest and that’s what has kept me going. If I want to be the best in the world and win an Olympic medal, I know that it’ll only come if I’m having fun and loving what I’m doing.”
Fans will be given the opportunity to witness Kauf in person when she competes in the FIS World Cup at Deer Valley from Feb. 6 through 8 — moguls takes place on the 6th and dual moguls on the 8th.
They might also be treated to some new tricks, as that is Kauf’s goal for this year. She knows she can compete with her current tricks set, but she wants to be the best in the world so she spent the offseason learning and implementing tougher tricks into her runs.
She believes this is what will give her the edge against the other top competitors in the world, and with the next Winter Olympics two years away, implementing them into her routine right now is most important.
“It’s definitely really tough to try and bring in something new and switch it up, but I know this is what will help me podium every time with this new air package,” Kauf said. “The tough part is putting yourself out there to try something new, knowing you’re risking it more. … But this year we don’t have world championships or Olympics, so this is the year to do it if I want these tricks to become a part of my regular routine for the future.”
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