By U.S. Ski and Snowboard
THAIWOO, China — The U.S. Ski Team moguls athletes stepped up to claim two podiums on day one of competition Thursday at Thaiwoo Resort. Jaelin Kauf of Alta, Wyoming, took home a win and Troy Murphy of Bethel, Minnesota, grabbed a third place.
Brad Wilson of Butte, Montana, placed third and was one of three U.S. skiers in the men’s finals. He improved 25 spots from his finish in Ruka, Finland, at the World Cup season opener.
After a strong fifth-place finish at the World Cup opener a few weeks ago, Kauf dominated the women’s finals in Thaiwoo. She qualified first into the super final and was the last skier to drop, skiing a clean, fast run to secure her second career World Cup win, her first singles win and one of two podiums needed to meet objective criteria for the 2018 Olympic team.
“I feel like I’m floating on cloud nine right now,” said Kauf after her win. “This is honestly just such a confidence booster moving forward with the rest of the season. I feel like I can relax a little more now and just go out there and ski my runs.”
“I was able to let my speed go through the middle section today. I put down two runs back to back where I pushed the speed but was able to stay pretty tight and clean and I think that was a key component to my run.”
The U.S. women once again packed skiers into the finals with Mikaela Matthews of Frisco, Colorado, sixth, Tess Johnson of Vail, Colorado, seventh, Keaton McCargo of Telluride, Colorado, eighth and Morgan Schild of Rochester, New York, ninth. Kazakhstan’s Yulia Galysheva and Canada’s Andi Naude rounded out the podium in second and third.
Murphy, who was ranked sixth in the world in 2017, was within reach of a podium finish at multiple events last season, but was never able to secure it. That wasn’t the story this time as Murphy’s bag of high degree of difficulty tricks and clean turns carried him to a third-place finish with a score of 80.57. It was the first podium of Murphy’s career and puts him one step closer to PyeongChang.
“It’s awesome to finally stand on the podium,” said Murphy. “This is obviously a big year and I’m stoked that my hard work throughout the years is paying off. I think my jumps are always the stamp of approval on my runs. I’m happy with my skiing as well. There’s room for improvement all around which I’m happy about because there is more success to be had.”
In just his seventh World Cup start, USA’s Emerson Smith was the top qualifier heading into super finals before skiing out on his final run for a sixth-place finish. Wilson also advanced and was on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. Wilson’s older brother, 2010 Olympic Bronze Medalist Bryon Wilson, is recovering from knee surgery he underwent last January.
Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury claimed yet another win with the Thaiwoo performance and Australia’s Matt Graham was second.
Moguls action continues in Thaiwoo with another singles competition on Friday. Finals will be broadcast live at 10:30 a.m. on The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.
— Bruce Sayler contributed to this report for buttesports.com.