Caldwell and Lillis finish on top in Minsk
Minsk, BLR - The final event of the 2015/16 FIS Freestyle Skiing aerials World Cup season took place in Minsk, Belarus, on Saturday, where Ashley Caldwell and Christopher Lillis finished off another strong season for the US aerials team with victories in the respective ladies’ and men’s competitions, while Caldwell and Ukrainian jumper Oleksandr Abramenko would finish the day holding the aerials crystal globes.
After a comeback 2014/15 season saw Caldwell finish second overall to her teammate Kiley McKinnon after missing two years of competition due to knee injuries, in 2015/16 she made it clear from the outset that she would not be settling for runner-up again, claiming victory at the season-opening event in Beijing, China, and then registered two more podiums on her way to Saturday’s season finale in Minsk.
Coming into the Minsk competition sitting 64 points ahead of nearest competitor Danielle Scott (AUS), all Caldwell had to do was make super finals to secure her first career crystal globe. With that in mind, the22-year-old made things easy on herself on Saturday, jumping well through qualifying and better in final number one to earn the top score there and put herself into the superfinal having guaranteed the 2015/16 World Cup title.
Despite this, she didn’t hold back in the superfinal, continuing her tradition of being one of the only ladies on the World Cup tour to consistently perform triple flipping jumps, launching a spotless full, full, full to earn a score of 103.27 and knock Scott’s score of 96.93 off the top spot and into second place on the day and on the season.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” said Caldwell in regards to her feelings heading into Saturday’s competition, “But when I made the final six I knew I had (the crystal globe) locked in and that kind of changed my mentality in the superfinal. Then in the superfinal I went out and did a full, full, full without training one the whole time we were here, which is kind of a big deal for me. And it was my highest-scoring full, full, full ever.
“Winning the overall title has been a goal for my entire career. To come out here and do it is incredible, and to do it while winning the last event of the season feels very, very nice.”
Third place on Saturday went to Aliaksandra Ramanouskaya (BLR), as the 19-year-old earned her second career podium on a strong day for the host Belarusian squad. Ramanouskaya’s teammate Hanna Huskova followed her up, in fourth place.
Caldwell finished the 2015/16 season with 409 points to Scott’s 325, with Russia’s Alina Gridneva rounding out the season’s top three with 247 points.
Lillis' becomes youngest ever men's AE World Cup winner, Abramenko takes globe
In men’s event, 17-year-old Christopher Lillis shocked the World Cup field, scoring his first career World Cup victory in just his fourth competition and becoming the youngest man to ever win a World Cup aerials event.
Lillis made it through qualifying in third place, finished final one in fifth, and then put down a near-perfect landing in a mistake-filled superfinal to earn a score of 111.78 and make it two-for-two for the US aerials team at the season’s final event.
“I definitely didn’t come into today thinking I would pull off the win,” said a laughing Lillis after the competition, “I didn’t really think that was in my zone, or where I put myself. But coming in here I knew I had been doing well and landing jumps, so I thought to myself that I’d really like to do some really nice jumps, with some high scores, just for myself personally. And then in qualifications I did that and got the highest score I’ve ever gotten.
"I just kept setting new goals for myself all day. In the superfinal I just wanted to do another nice, straight jump with a good landing, and I did that and I won. Throughout the season I’ve been pushing myself and it worked out today. These are the best athletes in the world in this sport and the this is the highest stage, and just to compete was an honour.”
Second place went to Belarusian team leader Maxim Gustik, giving the host nation two podiums on the day. While Gustik’s double full, full, full had a significantly higher degree of difficulty than did Lillis’ full, full, full, Lillis’ jump was executed much more proficiently, and Gustik would not be rewarded.
Third place went to Ilya Burov (RUS), giving him two straight podiums to close out the 2015/16 season.
In the men’s crystal globe race, Abramenko found himself in a similar position to Caldwell come time for the superfinal, having already locked up the globe once his nearest competitor, Petr Medulich (RUS) failed to advance from final 1.
Unlike Caldwell, Abramenko didn’t wow the crowd with his final jump, crashing in his landing and being forced to settle for fifth-place on the day.
With that result, Abramenko finished the season with 310 points to earn his first crystal globe in his 11th World Cup season. Meanwhile, Gustik’s second-place on the day vaulted him over Medulich and into second-place on the season, with 276 points. Medulich would finish in third overall with 244 points.
Northrop, Irving aerials Rookies of the Year
Earlier in the day it was announced that Morgan Northrop (USA) and Lewis Irving (CAN) would be awarded the 2015/16 aerials Rookie of the Year trophies.
21-year-old Northrop competed in four events in 2015/16, with her standout performance coming on home soil in Deer Valley, USA, where she made her first-ever superfinal berth and finished in sixth place.
20-year-old Irving, meanwhile, had three top-10 results in his four competitions entered, topping out at fourth place in the same Deer Valley competition.