Caldwell and Lillis sweep Sierra Nevada aerials golds for USA
Sierra Nevada, SPA - It was an incredible night for the US aerials team on Friday at the Sierra Nevada 2017 Freestyle Ski & Snowboard World Championships, with Ashley Caldwell and Jonathon Lillis both nailing incredible final jumps to take the respective ladies’ and men’s gold medals and World Champion titles.
Caldwell’s performance should go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, as the 23-year-old became the first woman ever to land the triple-flipping, quadruple-spinning jump known as “The Daddy” in competition - a full, double full, full.
However, Caldwell almost didn’t get the chance to change ladies’ aerials forever, as she made her way through the first round of the three-round finals by the barest of margins, back-slapping on her first jump and ending up as the ninth-ranked athlete of the nine who would make it through to final round two.
However, in the second final she hit her stride, nailing a full, full, full and making her way into the super final in top spot, earning the right to drop in as the last jumper of the night in the process.
Before the super final jump she was able to watch from the top of the in-run as 2016/17 World Cup aerials crystal globe winner Xu Mengtao (CHN) and Xu’s runner-up in the World Cup Danielle Scott (AUS) dropped before her. Both Xu and then Scott nailed their jumps, with Scott’s full, double-full giving her a score of 94.47 to lead Xu’s score of 91.65.
Then, of course, it was Caldwell’s turn to do what had never been done before in competition and she rose to the occasion, muscling through an imperfect landing on her full, double full, full to ride into the finish area with her arms raised in celebration.
“This was the first time I’ve ever landed that jump…ever,” Caldwell said following the awards ceremony, “Today was only the third time I’ve ever even tried it. Before dropping in I was just thinking to myself, ‘This is my third one, at least if I crash I was doing something big and ballsy,’ but aside from that I was thinking the same things I do before every jump. I just had a little more nerves than normal.
“And then Johnny (Lillis) winning, too…it’s just unbelievable. I’ve known him since he was a 13-year-old little boy. We grew up together. So having him up there with me is just phenomenal. It’s been a bit of a rough season for me and this makes everything a little bit better.”
Scott’s silver medal was the second of her world championships career, after she took a bronze in Voss (NOR) in 2013, and caps off another excellent season for the Aussie who has spent the past three World Cup campaigns ranked inside the top-3.
Xu, meanwhile, took her fourth career world championships medal, moving her into fourth place on the ladies’ all-time list.
Lillis takes first international win on season’s biggest stage
While there were no record-breaking performances on the men’s side, there certainly wasn’t any shortage of drama, as the heavyweights of aerials stomped jump after jump through the three rounds of finals.
Despite the world champions, Olympic medalists, and crystal globe winners that he found himself stacked up against in Friday’s competition, there was no backing down for Lillis. He - like his teammate Caldwell - put down the top score in the second final to give himself the opportunity to watch his competitors before announcing his jump to the judges and dropping in last.
Because of this, he was able to watch as 2013 and 2015 world champion Qi Guangpu (CHN) downgraded his super final jump from a quintuple-spinning air to a quad just before dropping in, perhaps thinking that the less-experienced Lillis would cave under the super final pressure.
However, after Qi landed his double-full, full, full for a score of 120.36, Lillis in turn upgraded his own jump to a full, full, double full. He then proceeded to land that with authorityt to earn a score of 125.79 and give the USA their first sweep of world championships golds since Nikki Stone and Trace Worthington did it 22 years ago.
“I can’t put my feelings into words. I can’t believe it,” an emotional Lillis said after awards, “Before I dropped in I managed to draw a lot of focus. At the World Cup finals in Moscow the other week I was in the same position and I missed my take-off and missed my jump. Tonight I was like, ‘Not two times in a row. I’m not going last and missing the podium.’ And, I ended up on top.
“And for our team, for me and Ashley to be dual world champions… We’ve been living and breathing aerials together since we were 13. We’ve been together the whole time and we were both able to put it together tonight and share world champs gold.”
Though he was unable to make it three-in-a-row golds, Qi’s silver medal performance on the day would be the fourth world championships medal of his career.
The bronze medal went to David Morris (AUS), as the Sochi 2014 Olympic silver medallist capped off an up-and-down season with an exceptional performance through all three phases of Friday’s finals.