Aerials World Cup finals set to fly over Moscow
Moscow, RUS - The 2016/17 FIS Freestyle Skiing aerials World Cup season reaches it’s climax this weekend with the World Cup finals competition taking place under the lights on Saturday evening in the Russian capital city of Moscow.
This will be the third-straight season that Moscow has hosted World Cup aerials competition at the massive scaffold set-up just outside of the city centre, and the seventh time in history FIS Freestyle has staged aerials competition in Moscow.
Coming into the final competition of the season we’ve got the closest World Cup title race in Freestyle happening on the ladies’ aerials leaderboard, while over the men’s side the 2016/17 season winner has already been decided, regardless of the outcome in the Moscow.
In the battle on the ladies’ side just two points separate first and second overall, with Australia’s Danielle Scott’s 402 points putting her but a hair’s breadth ahead of Xu Mengtao’s 400.
In six competitions this season Scott has one victory and three runner-up results as well as one other top-10 placing, as she seeks to improve on a 2015/16 season in which she finished second overall to the USA’s Ashley Caldwell.
However, Scott will be in tough against Xu come time for finals on Saturday, as the Chinese athlete is in the midst of an exceptional 2016/17 season in which she has five podiums in five events - two wins, one runner-up, and two third place finishes. In fact, one might argue that only reason Xu sits in second overall is because she was not able to participate in the Deer Valley World Cup in early February.
With Scott’s double-flipping precision and exceptional form matched up against Xu’s explosiveness and triple-flipping degree of difficulty, the drama developing ahead of this weekend’s competition and the battle for first overall is high.
Third overall on the ladies’ side currently belongs to Scott’s teammate Lydia Lassila, and the 35-year-old mother of two has written one of the most remarkable stories in Freestyle in 2016/17.
Lassila - who owns a gold medal from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games and a bronze from Sochi 2014 - stepped away from competition for three years following her performance in Sochi, only to return to the World Cup in mid-season this year and immediately set about making her presence felt, scoring a sixth place in her first event back and then registering two victories in the three events since then.
Currently, Lassila sits 24 points ahead of Shen Xiaoxue, and should she be able to hold on to her ranking it will be the seventh World Cup aerials overall medal of her incredible career, putting her in good position to compete for her first World Championships medal at the upcoming Sierra Nevada 2017 Freestyle World Ski Championships.
Qi ensured of second career aerials crystal globe
Over on the men’s side, the race to the 2016/17 crystal globe is already over after China’s Qi Guangpu secured his second career World Cup aerials title with a second-place finish last weekend in Minsk, taking him to 440 points - 132 points ahead of his nearest rival.
27-year-old Qi was dominant in 2016/17, his 11th season on the World Cup circuit, scoring two wins and three runner-up results for five podiums in five events, and the two-time reigning World Champion will be looking to add another top result to that count in Moscow in order to head into the Sierra Nevada World Championships on a high.
In fact, the whole Chinese team is looking to hit Sierra Nevada on a high, especially after a sweep of the men’s podium last weekend in Minsk that saw Qi take second place behind his teammate Wang Xindi, who scored his first career win. Another Chinese aerialist who can take top spot is bad news for the rest of the field, and it will worth watching to see where 21-year-old Wang takes things from here.
With 308 points, second overall currently belongs to Anton Kushnir (BLR), the Sochi 2014 Olympic champion who stepped away from competition following his Olympic win only to return this season with a vengeance. Kushnir has three victories in four competitions this season, it seems likely that he and Qi would be squaring off in a battle-royal for the crystal globe this weekend in Moscow, if only Kushnir had been able to compete in more events this season. However, though the globe is out of reach, Kushnir will no doubt be looking for a win on Saturday to derail Qi and set himself up well for Sierra Nevada.
Third on this season’s World Cup rankings is Mac Bohonnon, as the 2014/15 aerials crystal globe winner has had a bounce back campaign after struggling somewhat in 2015/16. With five top-10s and a pair of podiums this season Bohonnon has 288 points so far, putting him just 20 points back of Kushnir - one more good competition to close out the season could easily bump him up to silver on the final aerials World Cup rankings.
Weather in Moscow has been less than ideal so far this week, with rain and warm temperatures forcing the cancellation of Thursday’s training. While the training schedule for the coming days will be subject to change, the program for Saturday’s competition remains the same, with ladies’ qualification beginning at 14:05, men at 16:15, and finals slated for 19:00.