2016/17 aerials World Cup season recap
With seven competitions in five countries on three continents, the FIS Freestyle Skiing aerials World Cup tour once again brought the highest-flying action in sports to some of the most unique venues on the FIS calendar in 2016/17.
This season’s aerials tour saw action at well-established host resorts in Beida Lake (CHN), Lake Placid (USA), Deer Valley (USA), and Minsk (BLR), as well as the celebrated city stop of Moscow (RUS) to close out the season, and one competition at a new and very exciting venue - the test event for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pheonix PyeongChang (KOR).
With a return to form for the top athletes of a Chinese squad that had experienced some uncharacteristic struggles in the previous couple of seasons, the explosive return to competition of some celebrated veterans after years away from the sport, and a double gold medal performance for the US squad at the Sierra Nevada 2017 world championships, the 2016/17 FIS Freestyle aerials season had no shortage of exciting moments.
Here we take a moment to look back at the season that was…
After two consecutive seasons without a crystal globe in either the ladies’ or the men’s sides of competition, the Chinese aerials team reestablished its World Cup dominance this season, with Qi Guangpu and Xu Mengtao claiming the second and third globes of their respective careers.
Xu took the ladies’ title just one year after undergoing knee surgery, making an for an incredible return to competition after facing one of the most challenging rehabs that a freestyle skier can face.
Perhaps because of the difficulty of her injury, Xu’s globe win in 2016/17 was a much more difficult affair than her previous two titles, as she came into the final competition of the season in Moscow in second place, two points back of Danielle Scott (AUS).
However, once in Moscow, Xu was able to settle in and put on a veteran performance, taking second place on the day and walking away with the trophy well in hand after Scott crashed in the final and finished sixth, giving Xu 480 points on the season to Scott’s 447.
Qi, however, did dominate the season, locking down his second career globe with a second-place finish in a Chinese sweep of the podium in Minsk. With the Sierra Nevada 2017 World Championships on the horizon, Qi was able to sit out the Moscow finals and head the world champs well-rested.
Qi didn’t miss the podium once in 2016/17, finishing the season with two wins and three runner-ups in his five competitions to earn 440 points, 112 points ahead of second-overall Mac Bohonnon of the USA.
While Xu’s return to the top of the World Cup after knee surgery was a great comeback story, perhaps the greatest comeback stories of the year went to a couple of cagey veterans who stepped back on to the World Cup scene after nearly three years away from competition to make their presences instantly felt, with both the athletes we’re speaking of finishing the season ranked third overall in their respective fields.
Those athletes were Australia’s Lydia Lassila and Anton Kushnir of Belarus, two skiers who stepped away from the World Cup after successful showings at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and seemed unlikely to ever compete again, only to return in 2016/17 and quickly reestablish themselves as two of the top jumpers in the world.
Kushnir made his presence felt from the very outset of the season with an incredible win at the World Cup opener in Beida Lake, going on to take two more victories in the next four competitions before ending his season early due to an unfortunate injury.
Lassila too wasted no time exerting her will on the competition, taking a victory at Deer Valley in her second competition back and closing the season out with back-to-back victories to match Kushnir’s three-win performance earn herself the bronze medal for the season.
With both Kushnir and Lassila back in the mix and getting primed for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games - which will be the fourth Olympic competition for Kushnir and, incredibly, the fifth for Lassila - the road to gold has become much more difficult for the rest of the field.
Aerials athletes get first look at Pheonix PyeongChang
With the above-mentioned Olympic Winter Games in Korea just around the corner, the aerails athletes finally got their first look at the venue where dreams will be realized next season, as the Olympic test event World Cup competition took to the skies over Bokwang Pheonix Park (venue for all PyeongChang 2018 Freestyle competitions) in mid-February.
As one would expect from a future Olympic venue, the site in Korea is second-to-none, with a pristine jumping arena construction at the base of Phoenix Park lit up and ready to go for the nighttime Olympic competition that will be forthcoming.
Xu and Kushnir were triumphant at this season’s test event World Cup competition, with Xu heading up a Chinese sweep of the ladies’ podium that also included Shen Xiaoxue and Yang Yu, and Kushnir leading an intimidating men’s showing with Qi and Bohonnon joining him on the podium.
Any one of the above athletes should be a potential medallist come competition time in February 2018. With the confidence gained from their test event performances this past season, all eyes will be on those mentioned to see if they can take advantage of their experiences this year.
US takes double gold in Sierra Nevada
Finally, the final event of the season brought one of the great storylines, as the US aerials squad took home both the ladies' and the men's Sierra Nevada 2017 Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championship gold medals for outstanding performances by Ashley Caldwell and Jonathon Lillis.
Lillis win was his first in an international competition, as he came into SN2017 with only one runner-up World Cup podium finish to his name, making his gold medal all the more remarkable.
Caldwell, meanwhile, one-upped her teammate Lillis in a big way, becoming the first lady to ever land a triple-flipping, quad-spinning jump in competition when she put down a full, double full, full in her final jump of the competition to take the gold.
It was a incredible way to end the 2016/17 season, and it has us thirsty to see what 2017/18 will bring.