Aerials World Cup kicks off at future Olympic venue in Secret Garden
Secret Garden (CHN) - The 2017/18 FIS Freestyle Skiing aerials World Cup gets underway this weekend, with the first two competitions of the season set to take flight on December 16 and 17, 2017, at the future Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games venue in Secret Garden, China.
With the first competition of the weekend on Saturday, the men and ladies’ of aerials skiing will be the first FIS athletes in any discipline to compete in World Cup-level competition at what will be the site of Olympic Freestyle Skiing competitions in just a little over four years time. While it is always exciting to see a new venue join the Freestyle World Cup circuit, this weekend’s competitions in Secret Garden are, quite understandably, extra special.
Sunday’s event will be the lone aerials team competition of the season, where the individual, qualification phase of the competition will decide the results for World Cup points, before the second, team phase of the competition closes out the Secret Garden weekend.
The Chinese aerials contingent comes into the season-opening competition riding high after a return to form in 2016/17, with Xu Mengtao and Qi Guangpu lighting up the aerials World Cup from start to finish last season, scoring podium results in every competition entered on the walking away with the respective ladies’ and men’s aerials crystal globes at season’s end.
Last year’s crystal globe was the third of Xu’s career (though her first since 2012/13), and it came on the heels of a 2015/16 season in which she missed all but the first event due to injury. Xu showed few ill effects of that injury in 2016/17, winning the first competition of the season on home soil in Beida Lake and taking her other victory of the season as part of a Chinese podium sweep at the Olympic test event competition in Korea’s Phoenix Park in February.
While the general lack of triple-flipping jumps throughout Xu’s season may raise concern regarding the true lingering effects of the 2015/16 injury, it is also entirely possible that her repertoire throughout last season is part of a programme designed to have her peaking again in time for PyeongChang 2018 in February, where the Chinese would love to see a repeat of their performance at last season’s test event.
Behind Xu on the 2016/17 aerials World Cup leaderboard were a pair of “Flying Kangaroos,” as the Australian team had a fantastic season lead by the always-consistent Danielle Scott and an incredible comeback by two-time Olympic medallist Lydia Lassila after three seasons away from competition.
With four podiums on the season, 2016/17 was the best of Scott’s career, and were it not for a crash in the superfinal of the season-ender in Moscow the 27-year-old would almost certainly have taken the first aerials crystal globe for Australia since Lassila did it in 2009. Though that was not to be, Scott’s second overall performance and her silver medal at the Sierra Nevada 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships still made for a resoundingly successful season.
Icing on the cake of that season came from the performance of Lassila who, despite not competing since her bronze-medal winning performance at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, almost immediately upon return to competition showed the type of form that also won her gold at the Vancouver 2010 Games. With three victories in five competitions in 2016/17, Lassila is very much in the running to become just the fourth Freestyle athlete of all time with three Olympic medals to their credit.
However, what was perhaps the most important single moment of the 2016/17 came in the final jump of the final competition when, in the Sierra Nevada 2017 superfinal, the USA’s Ashley Caldwell completed a mission that Lassila had first attempted at Sochi 2014, becoming the first female aerials athlete to land a quad-twisting triple flip in competition.
Caldwell’s final jump in Sierra Nevada gave her the gold medal and the title of world champion, and will certainly go down as one of the greatest moments in FIS Freestyle history. With the most difficult jump ever completed by a female competitor in her arsenal, Caldwell has put herself in a different echelon heading into 2017/18.
Explosive Qi one to beat once again in 2017/18
On the men’s side, Qi’s season showed once again why he is the top competitor on the aerials World Cup, claiming two victories and three runner-up results in five competitions to move into 10th place on the all-time aerials World Cup rankings with 26 career podiums. Though his 2016/17 globe was only the second of his career, Qi has finished in the aerials top five overall in all but one of the last eight seasons, and will no doubt continue to be a force through 2017/18.
Just behind Qi was Mac Bohonnon (USA), who returned to the aerials elite after slumping somewhat to 10th overall in 2015/16 following a crystal globe-winning season in 2014/15. With podiums on home soil at Lake Placid and at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang and top-10 results in six out of seven competitions, 22-year-old Bohonnon seems to have found his groove once again.
Behind Bohonnon was the comeback narrative on the men’s side to match that of Lydia Lassila on the ladies side, as Anton Kushnir (BLR) returned to competition after a semi-retirement following Sochi 2014 and locked in some unexpectedly brilliant performances in a limited number of competitions entered.
As the gold medal-winner at Sochi, no one would doubt that Kushnir had within himself the capabilities to reestablish himself as strong competitor on the aerials World Cup tour. However, few would have predicted just how strong he would be immediately upon returning after three years away, as the then 32-year-old claimed thee victories in four events, including an incredible win in his very first competition back at Lake Placid in January.
Kushnir would end up shutting his season down early, but not before scoring one extra special victory, as he topped the field at Korea’s Phoenix Park in the aerials Olympic test event, perhaps setting the stage to become the first aerials athlete to repeat as Olympic champion.
And, finally, we turn back to the Sierra Nevada 2017 world championships, where a remarkable night for the US aerials squad was capped off with an unprecedented gold medal-winning performance by Jonathon Lillis.
A steadily-improving member of the US squad with one World Cup podium to his name, Lillis had the performance of his life at the season’s final major competition, topping the likes of Qi, Sochi 2014 silver medallist David Morris (AUS), Sochi bronze medallist Jia Zongyang, and all others with a perfect full, full, double-full, giving the US aerials team its first world championship aerials gold medal sweep in 22 years.
- Secret Garden aerials World Cup programme
- Live timing, data, and results
- TV Exposure
- Photos (credit FIS Freestyle)
LIVE TV SCHEDULE (Saturday & Sunday)
Australia/Asia - Eurosport
Belarus - Belarus 5
China - CCTV 5
France/Belgium/Luxembourg/Portugal - SFR3
Kazakhstan - Qazsport
USA - live-streaming on nbcsports.com