LAKE PLACID - Freestyle skiers from China departed the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex Saturday with loads of hardware after the final World Cup aerials event of the season.
At the same time, United States skiers left the venue with a whole lot of uncertainty about their chances of making the team that will be at the Sochi Winter Olympics next month.
In the men's and women's competitions, a dominant squad known as the "Chinese Air Force" captured four of the six medals up for grabs, as well as the overall season championships at the last stop on the World Cup tour before the Olympics. Meanwhile, with the opportunity to enhance their chance at being selected to compete in the Olympics by medaling, no Americans were able to reach the podium.
Emily Cook of the United States flips upside-down in Saturday's aerials World Cup in Lake Placid. Cook was the top American finisher in the event, placing fifth among the world's best women.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
For China, Nina Li won the women's contest and Guangpu Qi took the top spot for the men. China swept first and second in the men's competition, as Zhongquing Liu captured the silver. Veterans from Belarus grabbed the next two positions for the men, with Alexei Grishin claiming the silver and Dmitri Dashinski finishing fourth.
Australia's Danielle Scott placed second in the women's contest and China's Xin Zhang was third.
The aerials format featured three rounds, starting with the qualifier that saw the top 12 move on for a second jump. The four highest-scoring skiers from that round then earned a third jump to determine the medals winners.
Americans had some of the highest scores in the qualifier, but had a rough go in the round of 12. In the women's competition, Ashley Caldwell and Emily Cook, both 2010 Vancouver Olympians, had the second- and third-highest scores in the qualifiers. But in the round of 12, Caldwell took a tumble on her landing to get knocked out of the medals round. Cook wound up just one position short of advancing and finished fifth, which was the top result for the U.S. Cook earned a score of 88.47 points on her second jump, which was less than four-tenths of a point shy of Zhang's result that put her in the medal round.
"I will be heartbroken if I don't go to the Olympics this year," said Cook, a 34-year-old Belmont, Mass. native who competed in her first World Cup in 1997. "I've spent the past four, 12 years preparing for this, but I wouldn't change a thing.
"I'm satisfied with where I'm at," Cook added. "I've done everything I could, and now it's in the coaches' hands. Now, it's just wait and see. I should be back next year, but you won't see me in the 2018 Olympics."
As a 16-year-old, Caldwell competed in her first Winter Olympics when she went to Vancouver. After recovering from an injury a year ago, Caldwell has been going off the triple jump for the first time this season. Unfortunately, she didn't land her second effort, a jump that had the highest degree of difficulty in the competition.
"My training jumps went well, but the conditions really changed by the second round," said Caldwell, who wound up in 11th place. "I've been training on the triple, my coaches have made sure I've been safe, so that's what I do in competition. I feel strong and confident doing them, so I wouldn't consider doing a less difficult jump."
Michael Rossi had the top finish for the U.S. men, placing sixth after putting down the 10th-best score in the qualifying round. Another American, Dylan Ferguson of Amesbury, Mass., had the fifth-best qualifying jump, but crashed in the round of 12th in his bid to become a first-time Olympian.
"This one is hard to swallow," said Ferguson, who finished second overall on the World Cup tour a season ago. "I'm pretty bummed. Everything is up in the air right now. If I don't go to Sochi, I could be around in four years. We'll see."
The happiest U.S. skier after Saturday's competition was Mac Bohonnon, who did wind up collecting hardware after being named the men's World Cup rookie of the year. After earning his the first World Cup medal of his career, a silver, less than a week ago in Val St. Come, Que., the 18-year-old from Madison, Conn. just missed advancing Saturday after finishing 13th in the qualifier.
"I'm super psyched about this. I was just happy to be jumping in World Cups this season," Bohonnon said. "Although we didn't get the results we wanted today, all of my teammates jumped really well this year, and I'm glad to finish the season in Lake Placid.
"This is where I first started jumping," Bohonnon continued. "It's as close to home as I can get. I love this place."
The U.S. freestyle aerials and moguls Olympic teams will be announced Tuesday.