Men's aerials World Cup season preview
The 2015/16 FIS Freestyle aerials World Cup tour gets underway on December 19-20 with back-to-back aerials and aerials team events in Beijing. This will be the third consecutive season that Beijing hosts World Cup aerials competition, but it will be the first World Cup there since the city was awarded the honour of hosting the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Along with Beijing, stops in Deer Valley and Lake Placid, USA, city events in Moscow, Russia, and Minsk, Belarus, and the World Cup finals in spectacular Sierra Nevada, Spain, all have 2015/15 looking like one of the best season's yet on the aerials tour.
1 – Mac Bohonnon (USA - 491pts)
2 – Qi Guangpu (CHN - 440pts)
3 – Zhou Hang (CHN - 323pts)
(Full list HERE)
Kreischberg 2015 Freestyle World Ski Championships
Gold – Qi Guangpu (CHN)
Silver – Alex Bowen (USA)
Bronze – Maxim Gustik (BLR)
Rookie of the Year – Alex Bowen (USA)
For the first time since the late, great Jeret “Speedy” Peterson did it in 2004/05 there was a U.S. athlete standing on top of the aerials world last season, as 20-year-old Mac Bohonnon scored podiums in five of seven events to claim the 2014/15 men's aerials crystal globe.
Just one season after his 2013/14 “Rookie of the Year” performance, Bohonnon showed no signs of a sophomore slump last season, scoring the first victory of his career on home soil in Lake Placid and then following up two events later with a victory in Moscow.
Just 19 years old, Bohonnon showed great maturity throughout the campaign, and his emergence to claim the World Cup title along with the crystal globe winning performance from his compatriot Kiley McKinnon on the ladies' side made 2014/15 a truly special one for the U.S. squad.
Bohonnon's crystal globe season was only the second time in the last five seasons that a non-Chinese athlete was able to capture the honour. However, while his achievement was a great one, it doesn't quite suggest a true power shift in the world of men's aerials, as second and third place on the final standings belonged to Chinese athletes Qi Guangpu and Zhou Hang, respectively.
Both these Chinese aerialists missed the final two events of the season, registering their final scores with nearly a third fewer competitions than the other competitors. With Qi's Kreischberg 2015 Freestyle World Ski Championships gold medal, three victories, and five total podiums registered last season, one has to believe that he will again be very tough to beat.
Speaking of Kreischberg, another season highlight for the U.S. team occurred when Alex Bowen stepped up to win an unlikely silver medal. Bowen showed supreme calm and nerves of steel to land a jump he had never performed competitively. While he finished 16th on the overall rankings, his World Championships performance was enough to give him the men's 2014/15 “Rookie of the Year” honours.
Third place at Kreischberg went to Maxim Gustik (BLR), proving again that the Belarusians are still some of the best big-game aerialists in the world and not to be counted out of any competition they attend.
Back to the World Cup, another development last season was the emergence of a pair of strong Russian jumpers, as Ilya Burov and Pavel Krotov finished the season ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, with Burov's three podiums leading the way for the team. Gaining traction every year, the Russian squad looks poised to be a big factor in 15/16.
Lower down in the rankings, several athletes who had sub-par seasons in 2014/15 should perform better this season, including 2012/13 crystal globe winner Jia Zongyang (CHN) and 2011/12 winner Olivier Rochon (CAN). As well, Rochon's teammate Travis Gerrits fell heavily from fifth overall in 2013/14 to 16th overall by the end of last season and will be looking to right the ship this year.
And, finally, one of the biggest names in the sport returns to competition this season after taking a year off, as Olympic silver medalist David Morris (AUS) has ended aerials hiatus. Morris adds a strong men's component to an Australian team with a surplus of talented ladies, and he will no doubt be looking to prove his worth after such a strong showing by his teammates last season.
It all gets started in just under a month at Beijing's "Bird's Nest" stadium, with aerials competition followed by the increasingly popular aerials team competition on back-to-back nights, December 19-20. With the Chinese team returning to competition in front of their home fans after an abbreviated 2014/15 campaign, one would expect them to be at their best, leaving it up to Bohonnon and the rest of the field to prove that last season was no joke, and that the gap between the Chinese and the rest of the aerials world really has been bridged.