Cheng and Kushnir own the night sky at Deer Valley aerials
PARK CITY, USA – The second day of the three-day celebration of skiing known as the Visa International Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley went off under the lights and in front of a massive, boisterous crowd last night at Utah's Deer Valley resort, as a ramped-up aerials competition made hot the frigid night.
With some big crashes, a bit of controversy, scores of amazing jumps, and more than 8000 fans on hand to witness it all, the aerials component of the Deer Valley event was nothing if not entertaining, and those on hand and watching live around the world were treated to a taste of what to expect come competition time at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
In the ladies competition, the championship format whittled the field down to an all-China superfinal that featured youngster Kong Fanyu, 2012/13 crystal globe winner and world champion Xu Mengtao, veteran Zhang Xin, and winner of the 2011 world championships at that same Deer Valley venue, Cheng Shuang.
The ladies finals was a lesson in risk versus reward, with the former two ladies in the above list opting for difficult triple-flipping jumps, while the latter two chose to stick with simpler doubles.
Both Zhang and Cheng were able to stick cleanly their identical back full, double full jumps, with Cheng's even-cleaner landing earning her the higher score of the two. Those two ladies were followed up by Kong, the youngest athlete of the night to attempt a triple jump with a back lay, full, full. While things looked good in the air for Kong, she was unable to cleanly set down the landing gear, and the competition came down to the top qualifier and top overall woman's aerialist in the world, Xu.
Xu's back lay, double full, full, was far and away the most difficult jump attempted in the superfinal, and one we've seen her land several times in the past. However on Friday night, whether due to nerves or more likely to over excitement in front of the incredible Deer Valley crowd, Xu slightly over rotated her final jump, back-slapping and then pitching over her skis to slide down the landing in disappointment. And with that, her teammate Cheng took the victory.
The top American on the night was veteran Emily Cook, in 7th. Zhang's 2nd place performance moved her into top spot on the World Cup leaderboard.
The men's superfinal to close out the evening had all the makings of a barnburner, with hotshot US aerialist Jonathon Lillis slotted for the last jump of the event after qualifying first with an inspired jump in the 8 finals. However, Lillis would be matched up against two veteran Belarusian jumpers in Alexei Grishin and Anton Kushnir, and the 2013 world champion, Qi Guangpu of China.
Having squeaked into the superfinals in 4th place, Kushnir jumped first, and laid down a near-perfect full, full, double-full that set the bar exceptionally high for the jumpers to come. Kushnir's countryman Grishin was next, and though his full, full, full, was well executed, simply based on degree of difficulty he could not touch Kushnir's score.
One man who could, however, was Qi, with his proposed double full, full, double full – a quintuple-spinning triple backflip. Easily the most difficult jump of the day – and, simply, one of the most difficult jumps you will ever see attempted – a stuck landing by Qi would have blown the roof off of Deer Valley, American or no American in the final. However, the sheer force thrown into his jump proved too much for Qi to manage, and he back-slapped hard on the landing. If he has that jump harnessed by Olympic time, though, the gold medal will likely be his to lose.
Last up was Lillis, and with a less-difficult full, full, full, lined up, it seemed the best he could hope for was 2nd place. However, a touch-back in his landing, on the least difficult jump thrown in the superfinals, meant he would be relegated to 4th; the best performance by US aerialist in front of an enthusiastic Deer Valley crowd, but just off the podium.
With his win, Kushnir claimed the yellow World Cup leader's bib from Travis Gerrits (CAN), who finished the event in 8th place.
The festivities from Deer Valley come to a close Saturday night with the second of two moguls events planned for the weekend. Truly one of the highlights of the entire season on the FIS Freestyle calendar, the annual Saturday moguls showdown on Deer Valley's “Champion” run is not one to be missed, and with live streaming all over the world from the US Ski Team website, you won't have to.
Full ladies' results available HERE
Full men's results available HERE
Ladies' competition video can be seen HERE
Men's competition video can be seen HERE
For viewers in geoblocked areas, all highlight videos can be seen HERE