Loughran, Caldwell Third in China
Under challenging conditions in China, the Americans stepped it up during the FIS Freestyle World Cup aerials and posted two third-place finishes. Eric Loughran (Pelham, N.H.) earned a career-first World Cup podium, and Ashley Caldwell (Ashburn, Va.) posted her first World Cup podium of the season. The Shimao Lotus Mountain event marks the first of two days of competition for the U.S. Aerials Team and is the final stop of their 2019 World Cup Tour.
“It feels so good right now to be on the podium, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Loughran. “I struggled a little bit in the beginning of the season and it’s nice at the end of it to just really pull it together. It was a super tough day today, so I’m stoked to have pulled it off and feel pretty good about my performance. The first few jumps were a little iffy, I went a little bigger than I thought and then snuck on in there to put one down in super finals.”
Loughran shared the podium with China’s Sun Jiaxu and Wang Xindi, who came in first and second respectively. Caldwell finished behind Australia’s Laura Peel in first, and China’s Xu Sicun in second.
“I’ve had a lot of good results in China,” said Caldwell. “I had so much fun with my team despite the challenging conditions, everyone really crushed it out there. I’m excited to have gotten another podium here and looking forward to tomorrow’s team event and hopefully crushing it.”
The day proved challenging with varying course conditions due to dramatic temperature changes and changing winds. Temperatures fluctuated as much as 20 degrees, with the afternoon reaching highs of over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The organizers did a great job of providing dry ice to keep the jumps set, inserting tubes of it in the kickers to help keep the kickers’ form and smashing it on the tables and in-run so athletes could still gain speed skiing down.
“Experience definitely counts on a day like today,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard Aerials World Cup Coach Emily Cook. “Ashley and Eric were both using years of experience to hit the take-off right in these conditions.”
“Eric has a good feel for these things, he’s a great skier, which is sometimes underrated in our sport,” explained U.S. Ski & Snowboard Aerials World Cup Coach Eric Bergoust. “When you’re confident on skis you can feel and make adjustments from the bottom to the top of the jump.”
Even with a 5 a.m. wake up call for a 6 a.m. hour-long bus ride to the jump site, the U.S. team put five women and four men through to finals. Kaila Kuhn (Park City Ski & Snowboard) had a career-bests as well, making her first appearance in finals and finishing eighth overall.
The aerials athletes compete Sunday in two events: a one jump World Cup and the second Team event of the season. “Having the team events is important since it will be a new Olympic sport, but also we don’t want to be sacrificing singles for it,” said Cook about the double day. Sunday will provide the U.S. with two more podium opportunities and everyone is looking forward to closing out the season.
“This has been a challenging season for me,” reflects Caldwell. “I think I’ve used the word ‘challenging’ in every interview this year just because of this being both a post-Olympic and post-injury season. I feel really awesome about this team going forward in the next four years. We have a lot of talent and a lot of comradery that is going to be epic in the future.”
USA 1: Jon Lillis, Chris Lillis and Ashley Caldwell
USA 2: Justin Schoenefeld, Eric Loughran and Winter Vinecki
USA 3: Madison Varmette, Megan Nick and Nick Novak
HOW TO WATCH
All times EST
Saturday, March 2
5:00 p.m. - Men and women's moguls - Shymbulak, KAZ - Olympic Channel-TV*
Sunday, March 3
12:30 a.m. - Men and women's team aerials - Shimao Lotus Mountain, CHN - Olympic Channel-TV,OlympicChannel.com & NBC Sports Gold
2:30 a.m. - Men and women's dual moguls - Shymbulak, KAZ - OlympicChannel.com & NBC Sports Gold
1:00 p.m. - Men and women's dual moguls - Shymbulak, KAZ - Olympic Channel-TV*
All streams are available via desktop (NBCSports.com/Live, NBCSports.com/Gold and OlympicChannel.com) as well as mobile, tablet and connected television platforms. The NBC Sports app, NBC Sports Gold app and Olympic Channel app are available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire. Exclusive commercial-free coverage will be available for subscribers of the NBC Sports Gold Pass.