The Olympic dreams for four American athletes came down to their final run at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup Aerials competition in Lake Placid, NY on Saturday.
In an electrifying evening, under the lights and amidst a steady snowfall, past Olympians Emily Cook, Ashley Caldwell, and Dylan Ferguson; and the rising 19-year-old Mike Rossi were fighting for their Olympic lives.
Advancing from the afternoon’s qualifications to compete in this last tour stop before the Winter Games, each sought to stomp one final run to boost their standings in both the world cup circuit, and in the USSA federation’s judgmental eyes.
So, it was do-or-die for this quartet who has risen to the top of the American ranks through four previous world cup events.
Caldwell who threw down the third best run in the qualifier, launched down the hill, off the kicker, and into a gyroscopic trick. Yet, the 20-year-old fell on landing, ruining her chance to gain valuable points, and meet automatic USSA qualification criteria. Visibly upset, she rushed off the course, only to be called back for her score presentation that nestled her in the 11th spot, among an exceptional 12-woman field.
Following Caldwell’s shaky run, the two-time Winter Olympian Emily Cook propelled off the jump and stomped a high degree of difficulty routine to finish fifth in the standings that were dominated by the Chinese contingent.
The top dozen men next seized the hill, with Rossi and Ferguson pulling out all the stops to secure a trip to the Sochi Olympics.
Rossi confidentially hurtled off the high kicker to land a head-spinning trick. The judges rewarded the stoked 19-year-old with a sixth place standing.
In an all-or-nothing run, Ferguson rocketed off the kicker into a complex set of twists and flips, only to fall out of this whirlwind upon landing. Frustrated at his run post-race, he settled for the last spot among the dozen within these final standings that the Chinese again ruled.
On Pins & Needles
Since no skier has met the USSA aerial standards to punch a ticket to Sochi, each now nervously awaits their fate.
Ferguson, who qualified for Vancouver but could not compete due to appendicitis, currently is ranked 10th in the world. He has also notched two top ten finishes.
Relative newcomer Rossi, who first began competing just three years ago, holds the 15th spot, and also has landed among the top ten twice. “It’s been a rush, working hard and training to reach this point,” Rossi said.
Currently, Cook is seventh in the world cup standings (173 points), followed by Caldwell in eighth (149). While Cook has broken into the top ten three times this season, Caldwell has achieved this standing once – a silver medal at the season opener last month. Both would welcome the chance to return to the Winter Olympics.
“There is nothing I would have changed over the course of these four years and now it's just a waiting game,” Cook said.
The fate of these athletes will be decided on no later than January 21, when the USSA must solidify its nominees for the subsequent U.S. Olympic Committee's approval.
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