Young Americans lead the way in Deer Valley aerials |

Young Americans lead the way in Deer Valley aerials

Despite crashing on her final jump and finishing 11th overall on Thursday at Deer Valley, Team USA s Ashley Caldwell retained the yellow bib, which signifies the World Cup overall leader.

The U.S. aerials team didn’t land anyone on the podium in the first of two competitions at the Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup on Thursday morning, but there were still plenty of positives to take away.

In the men’s competition, defending World Cup overall champion Mac Bohonnon didn’t qualify for the finals, but Christopher Lillis, competing in his first-ever World Cup, did qualify. He finished ninth to lead three Americans in the final 12.

On the women’s side, defending World Cup overall champion Kiley McKinnon narrowly missed qualifying for finals. Current World Cup leader Ashley Caldwell qualified, but couldn’t land her full-full-full and finished 11th.

That left the door open for Morgan Northrop to show off how much she’s improved. Following a long recovery from a dislocated elbow, Thursday was her first World Cup competition in two years and she made the most of it, turning in a career-best sixth-place finish.

Both young Americans were thrilled with the way they jumped at Deer Valley.

"It was definitely a big honor just to even compete," Lillis said. "This is my first World Cup and to do the jumps the way I wanted to do them and put them down to my feet is just awesome. I couldn’t be happier."

For Northrop, seeing that she could still compete at a high level after a long absence from the World Cup was motivating.

"I don’t even know what to say," she said. "I’m really excited. This is a fun event and it’s cool to have my family here. It’s just a really good day."

Chinese athletes won both competitions, with Qi Guangpu leading the way for the men and Yang Yu earning gold for the women.

Lillis completed a lay double-full-full and Northrop’s jump was a full-full. Neither of them had practiced their jumps on snow much before Thursday’s competition.

"This is my first couple weeks doing it," Lillis said. "But I train in the summer and all year long with all the coaches and I have the best coaches in the world. They teach you how to do it right and then, when you get to snow, it’s easy."

Northrop had been practicing a full-full for even less time than Lillis had been working on his jump.

"I tried it yesterday and got three off and then came back today and tried some more," she said. "I was just trying to keep it like training and not get too excited and just have fun."

The men’s finals started at 10:20 a.m. Qualifications were held earlier in the morning, something Lillis said he and his teammates aren’t used to.

"Today was the earliest I’ve ever competed in my life," he said. "We started training at 7:30 a.m. and the sun wasn’t even up. Doing triple backflips before breakfast definitely gets you going."

Lillis said his time training at the Utah Olympic Park has done wonders for his jumping. After a strong performance in a U.S. selection event in Park City earlier this year, Lillis was supposed to travel to Lake Placid in mid-January for a World Cup event there. However, due to a lack of snow, that event was canceled. Thursday’s competition at Deer Valley was a make-up of that cancellation.

"It was actually probably the most productive month of training I’ve had in my entire life," he said. "I trained at the Utah Olympic Park for a full month and probably got a lot further than I would have had I gone to Lake Placid. It was a happy mistake and now I’m here and did well, so it seems to have paid off."

The second aerials competition at the Deer Valley World Cup was held Friday night, after this issue went to press. For coverage of that event, please see the Feb. 10 edition of The Park Record.

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