"I tried not to think about that at all," McKinnon said of the qualifying implications. "I kept that out of my mind. I didn't want to put any extra pressure [on myself]."
McKinnon scored a 95.17 in the super final Friday but had to wait for one final skier, Australian Lydia Lassila, to complete her run.
"I knew it was going to be close," said McKinnon, a Connecticut native who now lives in Park City. The judges awarded Lassila a 95.52.
Lassila made her Olympic debut during the 2002 games Utah. "I was wild. I was fearless. I would throw my body around like a rag doll," the Aussie recalled. Now, at age 35 and making her comeback after a two-year break from the sport, the mother of two wore her sons' names Kai and Alex on her gloves and looked in total control in the air.
The victory helped validate Lasilla's decision to return to jumping and helped ease what had been an emotional week of training in Utah.
"I missed Kai's first day of school. Then Alex, I'm going to miss his birthday. I was having an emotional day today," she said. "… [But] I'm here to have some fun and tonight was a lot of fun."
Chinese jumper Mengtao Xu took third place Friday with a score of 92.35.
On the men's side, the Americans' lone chance at a podium spot disappeared when China's Guangpu Qi stuck his jump, bumping U.S. skier Mac Bohonnon down to fourth place.
"I don't think I've ever seen it snow this hard in my life," Bohonnon said. "The conditions made it so tough for us. Speeds were constantly changing."
The snow and wind also kept skiers from getting in some of their training runs. McKinnon did not get a chance to practice her jump before the super final.
It didn't matter in the end.
"To be back here and do well in an Olympic qualifier," McKinnon said with a smile, "it's surreal."
Twitter: @aaronfalk _
1. Lydia Lassila, Australia 95.52
2. Kiley McKinnon, USA 95.17
3. Mengtao Xu, China 92.35
4. Liubov Nikitina, Russia 89.88
5. Xiaoxue Shen, China 71.20
6. Yu Yang, China 48.62
1. Guangpu Qi, China 128.96
2. Stanislau Hladchenko, Belarus 114.60
3. Stanislav Nikitin, Russia 114.60
4. Mac Bohonnon, USA 114.48
5. Maxim Gustik, Belarus 109.50
6. Eric Loughran, USA 98.41