Team USA misses aerials podiums, turns sights toward Olympics
DEER VALLEY RESORT, Utah — The night seemed promising for the Americans going into Thursday’s team aerials World Championships.
Not only is Deer Valley Resort home snow for the U.S. team, as well as a marquee destination for the competitors, the American roster listed Parkites Ashley Caldwell and Jon Lillis — meaning two of the team’s three competitors already held World Championship gold medals from the 2017 competition.
And the team’s up-and-comer? Tracing the success of his older brother, Chris Lillis entered Thursday’s competition having finished in the top 10 in eight of the 13 World Cups he’d competed in, and at 20 years old already has one outright win.
But all that promise didn’t coalesce into a jubilant red, white and blue medals ceremony; it just dissipated in the frigid air over White Owl run.
Caldwell’s first jump, a back full, full, gave the team a score of 74.97 after the first round, placing them fifth. Chris Lillis jumped next for Team USA, throwing a back full, double full full, but he landed hard and fell, bloodying his lip in the process. His score, a 62.83, put the team in sixth out of eight finalists.
To push them into the final round, Jon Lillis would need to move the team up to fourth.
His back full, double full, full was clean in the air, but he also came down hard, his back slapping into the the snow to the detriment of his score.
The resulting 89.38 was enough to pull the Americans into fourth, but only until the next competitor, Maxim Gustik of Belarus, landed his lay full, full well enough to supplant Team USA.
And just like that, the Americans were out. The 2019 World Championships aerials events concluded with the U.S. failing to medal.
Switzerland went on to win the gold, with Carol Bouvard, Nicolas Gygax and Noe Roth earning a combined score of 303.8. Then came China with a score of 297.74, earned by Xu Mengtao – last year’s women’s World Cup winner at Deer Valley – Sun Jiaxu, and Wang Xindi. Russia, with Nikitina Liubov, Stanislav Nikitin and Maxim Burov, took third with a score of 296.74.
“Aerials is an all-or-nothing sport,” said Jon Lillis as the final round concluded behind him. “Being 55 feet in the air, doing quadruple twisting triple backflips, sometimes stuff happens.”
He and Caldwell expressed their disappointment. Both said the team has the potential to stand on the podium, even if it didn’t show it Thursday night.
Jon Lillis said the team would focus on the future.
“I’m here until the next Olympics, my brother is here until the next Olympics, Ashley is here until the next Olympics, so we can’t let a few events define us,” he said. “We will be out here – snow or wind or anything else – pushing into Beijing.”
He said the team isn’t thinking about losses it takes along the way, even a World Championship loss.
“I’m pissed off, and I think that my brother and Ashley are too, and that’s what it’s going to be for the rest of the night, but you have to approach the next competitions with a clear head, knowing that we are some of the best and that’s what we have to do,” he said.
The team will finish out the rest of the World Cup season with three more competitions, the first coming in Moscow on Feb. 19.
“Just keep rooting for Team USA aerials,” Jon said. “We are going to be back on the top of the podium soon.”
The track at the Utah Olympic Park will be put to good use toward the tail end of 2022. The Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Cups stop at the UOP from Nov. 28 through Dec. 4, and then the Luge World Cup from Dec. 15 to Dec. 17.
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