PyeongChang 2018 OWG preview: Aerials

01 February 2018 19:12
Anton Kushnir at Sochi 2014
Anton Kushnir at Sochi 2014 -
GEPA Pictures

Aerials is second on the docket for Freestyle Skiing medal competition at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, with official training beginning on February 10, ladies’ qualifications taking place on Feb 15 and followed by finals on the 16th, and men’s qualifications taking place on Feb 17 to be followed by finals on the 18th. Both the ladies’ and men’s finals will begin at 20:00 local time, under the lights at the PyeongChang 2018 Freestyle Ski venue at Phoenix Park. With the aerials World Cup wrapping up on January 20 in Lake Placid, the Olympic competitions in PyeongChang will be the final major international aerials contests this season. 

 

Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games aerials results

Ladies:

Gold - Alla Tsuper (BLR)

Silver - Xu Mengtao (CHN)

Bronze - Lydia Lassila (AUS)

 

Men:

Gold - Anton Kushnir (BLR)

Silver - David Morris (AUS)

Bronze - Jia Zongyang (CHN)

 

All six of the Sochi 2014 medalists are slated to return for another shot at the podium in Korea, and most, if not all, of them have the capability to be right there in the mix come time for the super finals on the 16th and 18th. 

Explosive Xu ready for launch

Leading the way into ladies’ aerials competition at PyeongChang 2018 is Sochi silver medalist Xu Mengtao, the exuberant 27-year-old who just earned her second consecutive aerials crystal globe this season to make it four for her career. She adds this season's trophy to a collection that includes five world championships medals (including Voss 2013 gold), the aforementioned 2014 silver, and a Freestyle overall crystal globe earned in 2012/13.

Xu has podiums in 38 of 55 career World Cup starts, as well as a medal from every world championships competition she has ever competed in, making her not only one of the most explosive athletes in all of aerials, but arguably the most consistent as well. Xu earned podiums in five of six competitions in 2017/18 and comes into Korea high after a win at the final event of the World Cup season in Lake Placid, which may make getting between Xu and the gold medal is a tall task indeed for the rest of the field.  

 

Below Xu in the this season’s World Cup rankings are some young athletes on the come-up who, though they don’t boast the trick arsenal of their Chinese competitor, have shown an ability this season to progress with every jump and put down landings when it counts most. 

Second overall Hanna Huskova (BLR) has stepped up to the triple jumps this season, helping her earn her first career victory and exhibiting some impressive consistency throughout 2017/18 by making every super final save for one. Youngsters Kristina Spiridenova (RUS) and Aliaksandra Ramanouskaya (BLR) have also stepped up their game this season, and could be in contention come time for finals.

However, further down the World Cup rankings are some experienced athletes who should be counted on to up their performances come Games time. 

Vancouver 2010 gold medallist Lydia Lassila (AUS) returned to the World Cup in 2016/17 after two seasons away and has generally burned up the circuit since then, with four victories in eight competitions since her comeback and a trick repertoire to match that of Xu’s. Lassila’s teammate Danielle Scott, meanwhile, has perhaps the cleanest form of any aerials athlete on tour, and is a much stronger competitor than her sixth-overall finish on this year’s World Cup suggests.

And then there are the US duo of Kiley McKinnon and Ashley Caldwell, the 2014/15 and 2015/16 crystal globe winners, respectively. Both have the ability to be the best on the right day, with Caldwell in particular putting herself in the conversation as one of the great ladies’ aerialists of all-time after her world championship gold medal-winning jump in Sierra Nevada 2017 last season - a full, double-full, full (quad flipping triple flip) that she is the only ladies’ aerials athlete to ever land cleanly in competition.

Worth watching also will be reigning gold medalist Alla Tsuper of Belarus, though she will be in tough to exhibit the form that powered her to the top of the podium at the last Games. After going into semi-retirement following her victory in Russia the 38-year-old has only six World Cup starts to her name, with all those starts coming in 2017/18.

 

Pressure and parity face tough men's field

With a win in the final competition of the season in Lake Placid, 19-year-old Maxim Burov of Russia was able to vault into top spot and take the 2017/18 aerials crystal globe, concluding what was a seesaw battle through the last half of the season between him and Sochi 2014 bronze medalist Jia Zongyang of China.

Burov, however, is a less clear-cut favourite coming into PyeongChang than is ladies’ leader Xu, on a men’s side where there’s impressive parity throughout the top 10 or 15 World Cup aerials athletes.

As always, Belarus will send a strong aerials team to Korea, lead by Sochi 2014 gold medallist Anton Kushnir. Similarly to Lassila on the ladies’ side, Kushnir returned to competition last year after two full years away from the sport and proceeded to pick up right where he left off in Sochi, and the 33-year-old comes into PyeongChang 2018 with four victories and seven podiums in 10 events since his return. Kushnir’s teammate Maxim Gustov, meanwhile, earned five top-10 finishes in six competitions this season.

 

And then, of course there are the Chinese, with Jia and countryman Qi Guangpu as dangerous a 1-2 punch as any nation can boast for the Games. Jia earned wins in three of five competitions entered this season, while Qi scored two 2017/18 runner-up results in something drop-off season after a 2016/17 when he won the crystal globe, but both are nearly impossible to beat when they are able to put down the landing gear on their huge, technical jumps. 

Others with watching are US pair Jonathon Lillis and Mac Bohonnon (the Sierra Nevada 2017 world champion and 2014/15 crystal globe winner, respectively), 2011/12 crystal globe winner Olivier Rochon (CAN), who has seen something of a resurgence this season, and perhaps Oleksandr Abremenko (UKR), the 2015/16 crystal globe winner.

And, finally, there's Sochi 2014 silver medalist David Morris, who in his training leading up to PyeongChang 2018 has added the most difficult trick in aerials to his repertoire - a full, double-full, double-full - and in doing so put himself very much in the running for the gold medal.

 

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