U.S. aerial skier Ashley Caldwell chased down her dream Thursday in Beijing as Team USA edged out favorite China to win the inaugural gold medal in mixed team aerials at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“I’ve been on a hunt for a gold medal for a long time now and have been pushing myself incredibly hard to do jumps I’ve never done before,” said the 28-year-old Caldwell, the 2017 World Championship gold medalist from Ashburn, Va., who was making her fourth Olympics appearance. “This is a dream come true.”
Caldwell landed a triple-twisting triple backflip in her second run to help the U.S. secure its first gold medal in aerials since 1998 when Eric Bergoust and Nikki Stone won the men’s and women’s events, respectively, in Nagano. The 2022 win also marked the first medal in aerials for Team USA since the late Jeret “Speedy” Peterson won silver in 2010.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 10, 2022
Making gold even sweeter was accomplishing the feat alongside teammates Christopher Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld, whom Caldwell has been dating for three years.
“To do it with these guys is incredible,” she told media afterward. “Chris has been like a brother to me forever, and Justin is the love of my life, so that really helps.”
The American trio recorded a combined 338.34 to rally past a more experienced Chinese squad, which led after the first round. But along with great chemistry, Caldwell contributed the win to their aggressive degree of difficulty, with 23-year-old Lillis going for the most technically difficult trick of the night – a quintuple twisting triple referred as a back double Full-Full-double Full. He was rewarded with 135 points, the highest score seen so far in Beijing.
“I’ve always pushed myself to do harder tricks to show the world that women can do it,” said Caldwell, whose trick earned a score of 88.86. “To have more women in sport at a high level, it’s great for the world.”
MORE WINTER OLYMPICS: For Jessie Diggins, joy is in working hard, not just winning medals
The U.S. entered the highest degree of difficulty in the qualification round, with their sequence of jumps totaling 13.343 – 0.1 higher than China. The Chinese came into Beijing having won four of seven World Cup mixed team events, including the only two World Cups this season prior to the Games.
The U.S. made the podium just once this season, with Lillis, Schoenefeld and Winter Vinecki finishing second in one of them. In 2021, Caldwell and Lillis joined Eric Loughran to win mixed team bronze at the World Championships.
“It’s a sport of uncertainties,” said China’s Xu Mengtao, who threw the same trick as Caldwell – a back Full-Full-Full – and recorded the top score among the women with a 106.03. “The added scores are always changing after every athlete, and as the first athlete on our team, all I wanted to do is the lay a solid foundation for my whole team.”
The silver marked the second medal in freestyle skiing in Beijing for host country China after Eileen Gu won the Olympic women’s big air on Feb. 8. It also made Jia Zongyang the third athlete to claim an Olympic medal in freestyle skiing in three Games, joining Canada’s, Mikael Kingsbury and Norway’s Kari Traa.
Canada took bronze for its second in freestyle skiing at Beijing following the Kingsbury’s silver in men’s moguls on Feb. 5. Canadian Miha Fontaine added to his family legacy with his bronze medal performance, following in the footsteps of his father Nicolas Fontaine, who won aerials silver at Albertville in 1992.
“I knew we were a strong team, but we had never actually been in a final in these team events,” noted Canadian Marion Thenault, who earned a 62.74 with a back-double full-full. “First final, first podium. I just can’t believe I’m an Olympic medalist.”
Women’s Aerials Schedule at the 2022 Winter Olympics
|Event||Date / Time (U.S. Eastern Time)||Date / Time (Beijing, China)|
|Women’s Aerials (Qualifying)||2/13/22 6:00 AM||2/13/22 7:00 PM|
|Women’s Aerials (Finals)||2/14/22 6:00 AM||2/13/22 7:00 PM|