Lassila and Zhou win at Moscow aerials World Cup final
Moscow, RUS - The 2016/17 FIS Freestyle aerials World Cup season came to a close in spectacular fashion on Saturday night, with Lydia Lassila (AUS) and Zhou Hang (CHN) earning victories after a night of close competition, and Xu Mengtao and Qi Guangpu topping off a resurgent year for the Nations Cup-winning Chinese aerials team by claiming the respective ladies’ and men’s crystal globes.
Despite pervasive warm and wet conditions in Moscow throughout the week, teams and organizers managed to keep the 47-meter-tall scaffold competition venue in Moscow in prime condition, and excellent jumping was seen throughout the night.
Ladies’ winner Lassila was unstoppable on on Saturday night, notching the top scores in qualifications, semifinals, and in the super final, where an essentially flawless double full, full, earned her a score of 100.11 to handily beat the the 94.11 earned by runner-up Xu.
“I’m happy with my jumping today,” said Lassila following her win, “I got better throughout the night. I’m really happy with my super final jump. To get over 100 points was one of my goals, and I got another win, so it’s great. And to finish the season ranked third overall, getting three wins in five events this season after not competing in three years is a good comeback for me. I’ve gotta keep it going next week for world championships.”
Third place went to Lassila’s Australian teammate Laura Peel, giving the reigning world champion her first podium since the 2015/16 season opener in Ruka.
The win was the third of an incredible comeback season for Lassila, and the 35-year-old who returned to the World Cup in 2016/17 after three years away from competition suddenly finds herself as one of the favourites for gold come time for the Sierra Nevada 2017 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships.
Despite being bested by Lassila on Saturday night, Xu walked away from Moscow as the biggest winner of them all, as her second place performance was more than enough to surpass Danielle Scott (AUS) in the race for the 2016/17 aerials crystal globe. Scott and Xu came into Saturday’s competition separated by just two points, and when Scott crashed on her full, double full in the super final, Xu knew that all she had to do was ski away from her attempt and the third World Cup title of her career would be hers.
“Today was very exciting,” said a beaming Xu, “It was an unbelievable day. I got my first win eight years ago in Moscow, and now I get the third crystal globe of my career here. And I do it one year after my ACL surgery…I’m very excited.”
Scott finished the night in Moscow in fifth place and finished the season in silver medal position on the aerials rankings, giving the 26-year-old her third consecutive top-3 result in the in the aerials standings. Scott’s teammate Lassila joined her in the overall podium, giving Lassila now a total of seven World Cup medals.
Zhou tops in explosive men’s final, Qi takes second career crystal globe
The men’s competition in Moscow was a much more seesaw affair than was the ladies, with three different athletes leading each phase of the competition, capped off by China’s Zhou putting it together when the pressure was on in the big final.
Before Zhou’s win, Maxim Gustik (BLR) stood atop rankings in the qualifications, while Jonathon Lillis bested the field in the semifinals. However, come time for the superfinal, Zhou would stand head and shoulders above the rest.
With his spotless full, double full, full, Zhou earned himself a score of 125.22 - the highest for any athlete all day and nearly 15 points better than runner-up Gustik’s score of 110.97. The victory was the second of Zhou’s career, and moved him into fourth of the final aerials rankings.
“It’s really good,” Zhou said of his feelings following the win, “It was a crazy day. From me it was difficult. My training wasn’t good. But I made a plan with my coaches and they gave me lots of help, and I thank them for that.”
Behind Gustik in third place on Saturday was Maxim Burov (RUS), scoring a well-deserved podium for the host Russian squad in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
On hand for awards but not competing on Saturday night was Qi Guangpu, as the two-time reigning world champion had already locked up his second career World Cup title with a second-place result at last weekend’s competition in Minsk (BLR). Qi finished the season with 440 points - 112 points ahead of the next-best athlete despite only competing in five of the season’s seven competitions.
Second overall went to Mac Bohonnon (USA), as the 2014/15 crystal globe winner rebounded nicely from a disappointing 2015/16 season that saw him finish 10th overall.
On Saturday, however, Bohonnon was at the centre of the scariest moment of the day, when the 21-year-old over-rotated on his super final jump fell and heavily in the landing. Though he appeared to momentarily lose consciousness as a result of the fall, Bohonnon was able to walk off the course under his own power and attend the final awards.
Third place on the final season standings went to Anton Kushnir, as the reigning Olympic gold medallist, like Lassila on the ladies’ side, made an impressive return to competition after three years away from the sport. Kushnir managed three victories in just four contests entered, and had he put in a full season it seems likely he would have been challenging Qi for top spot.
Powered along by Xu and Qi’s crystal globe-winning seasons, China took aerials the Nations Cup honours for 2016/17.
As well, the aerials Rookie of the Year honours were announced on Saturday, with China’s Shen Xiaoxue and the USA’s Christopher Lillis coming out on top in the voting. Shen had five top-10 results on the season, and took a second-place podium at Phoenix Park in the test event for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Lillis, meanwhile, earned four top-10 results on the season.