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Winter sports: U.S. aerialists Caldwell, Bohonnon relishing their unique roles

Published February 1, 2017 1:45 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ask an aerialist, and they'll tell you they are the most invigorating but lonely few seconds.

Standing atop a hill, waiting to receive that green light from the judges to step onto the snow. In those moments, that's where these daredevils with skis are called upon to deliver soaring, mid-air acrobatics and stick the landing.

"Despite being in an individual sport," Ashley Caldwell said, "you can't do it by yourself."

The 23-year-old American knows from experience she's gleaned since rising to prominence in 2010 as a 16-year-old in an Olympic final. Now she's looked at as a veteran, constantly asked to give advice — which makes her laugh.

Now Caldwell not only has her sights set on a strong showing at her third Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next February, but also defending her home turf at this week's annual Visa Freestyle World Cup stop at Deer Valley Resort in Park City. Caldwell moved to Park City four years ago after growing up competing on the hills of Lake Placid, N.Y., where she won World Cup gold Jan. 14.

In seven career performances at Deer Valley, Caldwell has a gold, bronze and a fourth-place finish at the 2011 World Championships as highlights. The stop, she said, remains one that freestyle skiers circle on their calendar. The crowds are unrivaled on tour, and host countries get four extra aerialists (two women, two men) who get to compete.

"There's nothing like it on tour," she said.

Caldwell, however, remains in the middle of balancing her individual aspirations, while guiding a young U.S. women's aerials team. She's the oldest female on the team at the moment — and the only athlete to compete at an Olympic Games. The last time an American aerialist medaled at an Olympic Games was 20 years ago when Nicole Stone wold gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

"It's humbling," she said. "A nice feeling, one I hope I can continue."

Mac Bohonnon understands the suddenness of having that weight of expectation.

The 21-year-old moved to Park City five years ago to pursue jumping on a full-time basis. It's been a steady rise since. Bohonnon has eight podiums and three gold medals in 25 World Cup starts over the past four seasons. He was a surprise qualifier at 19 in Sochi, one with zero pressure on his shoulders. That led to a fifth-place finish in his Olympic debut.

Bohonnon, who also is a student at the University of Utah, is coming off a silver medal in Lake Placid two weeks ago. Like Caldwell, he knows the rest of this World Cup calendar —¬†and Pyeongchang — are going to be dramatically different.

"It's 100 percent on the table, and it's kind of the elephant in the room mentally amongst our whole team," he said about next year's Olympics. "The way I got there last go around was really just focusing on my jumping. Last go around, I really had no expectations for me going into the Olympics. I was kind of the rookie."

In a year's time, should he qualify, that tension that didn't exist nearly four years ago certainly will. Bohonnon embraces it. That helps him, he said. It provides an edge that otherwise wouldn't be there if not for the stakes of each flip or twist. The jumps at Deer Valley are a solid warmup, too. The usual sea of fans below braving the frigid elements show out to see American results, which Bohonnon and his teammates understand.

"I actually enjoy that," he said. "It forces me to be focused even more and kind of eliminate those little distractions."


Twitter: @chriskamrani —

2017 FIS Freestyle World Cup

Deer Valley Resort, Park City

Thursday • Moguls finals, 7 to 8 p.m.

Friday • Aerials finals, 8 to 8:50 p.m.

Saturday • Dual moguls finals, 7 to 8:20 p.m.






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