Winter sports • Skier from Belarus takes gold at Park City.
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Park City • Growing up flipping and twisting on his backyard Long Valley, N.J., trampoline, never in a million years did Mike Rossi envision standing on a World Cup podium breathing in the frigid air of the Wasatch Back.
But on Friday night in front of a packed crowd, the 18-year-old who started jumping aerials in the summer of 2008, achieved exactly that.
In his first full season on the World Cup circuit, Rossi earned a bronze medal in the VISA Freestyle International World Cup aerials event at Deer Valley Resort.
To make it even sweeter for the youngster, his parents and two sets of aunts and uncles made the venture out West to see his teammates carry Rossi on their shoulders onto the podium.
"I still consider myself a rookie of the sport," said a jubilant Rossi. "I have a World Cup podium? It hasn't even set in yet. I don't know."
It probably won't for a while.
The kid who first traveled to Park City nearly five years ago to try aerials on the water ramps at the Utah Olympic Park completed a rocket-rise to the top.
Todd Schirman, freestyle director for the United States Ski & Snowboard Association, said Rossi is the only other athlete to come out of the Elite Aerial Development Program and podium on the World Cup stage for the U.S. aside from Ashley Caldwell.
"It's an amazing thing for our development program, for our recruitment system, our coaches. … I mean, he jumped well all summer long and we knew he could do it," Schirman said.
As Rossi explained, each of his three tricks Friday night was good enough for him to "squeak" into the next round. But it was his final-round trick of a full-full-full that sent the crowd into a frenzy when he stuck the landing.
"I know what I'm capable of," he said. "I'm so glad I got to throw it down in front of the hometown crowd."
Maxim Gustik of Belarus won the men's World Cup aerials event with a final score of 117.85, while Travis Gerrits of Canada finished second with a final score of 115.83.
Women's World Cup aerials leader Xu Mengtao of China repeated as the aerials champion at Deer Valley, blowing away the competition with a final score of 116.90, more than 38 points ahead of second-place Laura Peel of Australia (78.25). China's Zhang Xin finished third with a 77.55.
The 23-year-old Chinese star has four World Cup podiums this season, all of them first-place finishes.
"It feels very good," she said, grasping onto her champion bouquet. "I'm very excited."
The VISA Freestyle International World Cup event wraps up Saturday night with the men's and women's dual moguls event as finals are slated to go from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.
VISA Freestyle International World Cup
Men's aerials finals:
1. Maxim Gustik BLR (117.85)
2. Travis Gerrits CAN (115.83)
3. Mike Rossi USA (111.37)
Women's aerials finals:
1. Xu Mengtao CHN (116.90)
2. Laura Peel AUS (78.25)
3. Zhang Xin CHN (77.55)
Saturday, Feb. 2 World Cup schedule:
Men's and women's dual moguls finals:
6:30 to 7:45 p.m.