Steamboat’s Kauf all but locks up Olympic spot with another World Cup podium
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jaelin Kauf likely punched her ticket to the 2018 Winter Olympics on Friday with another powerful performance at a World Cup freestyle skiing moguls event in China.
Kauf, a Steamboat Springs High School graduate, placed second in the event at the Thaiwoo Ski Resort, 165 miles west of Beijing and a site that will host elements of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
It was Kauf’s performance there Thursday and Friday that pushed her right to the edge of a guaranteed spot at the 2018 Games, which kick off in February in PyeongChang, South Korea.
She placed first in Thursday’s competition, her second World Cup win and her first in single moguls. A day later in another single moguls event, she led throughout the competition, laying down the best first- and second-run scores. Kazakhstan’s Yulia Galysheva edged Kauf in the finals with a score of 80.88 to Kauf’s 80.08.
Canada’s Andi Naude was third at 80.03.
Another big local result came from Olivia Giaccio, who trained in Steamboat before making the U.S. team before last season. She made it through qualifications and the 16-skier finals to place sixth in the super final.
It was Giaccio’s fourth World Cup top-10 finish and it sets her at 14th in the World Cup rankings and fourth among U.S. skiers.
Kauf, meanwhile, maintained her stop atop the World Cup rankings and when the tour returns after a holiday break for a four-event North American swing, she’ll don the No. 1 jersey.
That swing will start Jan. 6 with an event in Calgary, continue with events Jan. 10 and Jan. 11 at Deer Valley Resort in Park City and wrap up with a final pre-Olympics tuneup Jan. 20 in Tremblant, Quebec.
Breaking it down
The women’s moguls Olympic team is wide open with each of the four riders who made the 2014 squad either retired or most likely out of the 2018 picture.
Friday’s was the fourth of seven World Cup events that will be used to decide which skiers will make this year’s team and at this point Kauf’s comfortably at the head of the pack.
Any skier with two podiums is guaranteed a spot unless more than three skiers can claim that, in which case each finish is assigned a point value, 100 for first, 80 for second, 60 for third.
Kauf has 180 of a possible 200 points. She’s the only American with a podium in the season’s first three events, but certainly not the only one who’s shown the capability to get there.
Morgan Schild, a 20-year old from New York, is at the top of that list. She’s placed 16th, ninth and 19th in the three events this year, but finished last season on fire. She won a World Cup in 2015, then won another and was third in a World Cup in Lake Placid, New York, last season.
Giaccio, Keaton McCargo, from Telluride, and Mikaela Matthews, from Frisco, all also have World Cup podium finishes. Tess Johnson, a 17-year-old from Vail, has also been on the World Cup circuit this season and finished the trip to China with two top-10 results.
McCargo’s currently ninth on the World Cup, Johnson 10th, Giaccio 14th, Schild 15th, Matthews 16th and Nessa Dziemian 29th.
Any are capable of getting into the running, though the opportunities are beginning to get limited and it takes some imagination to envision a scenario that leaves Kauf out. With only four events remaining, only two other women could possibly finish with 200 points, passing Kauf, leaving her in third place and on the team.
Four more women, for a total of five, could rack up 180 points, however, if everything fell just right, each winning one event and placing second in another.
The first tiebreaker, then, is next-best-finish. Kauf placed 5th in this season’s first World Cup, but theoretically, and assuming she didn’t improve any of her own results, three or four of those women who racked up 180 points could slide in under Kauf’s fifth-place finish and keep her off the team.
The most likely scenario, however, involves Steamboat adding a new name to its long list of local Olympians, this one thanking her spot on the squad, in part, to one dominating two days of skiing in China.
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