By Karen Price
PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. freestyle skiing aerials and moguls teams have a little of everything, from Olympic veterans (like Butte’s Brad Wilson) to reigning world champions to up-and-comers ready to make their debuts on sports’ biggest stage.
Four of the top 10 women’s moguls skiers in the world are American, and they’ll all be representing Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Jaelin Kauf and Morgan Schild had already qualified for their first Olympic team by meeting – or surpassing in Kauf’s case – the objective criteria of two podium finishes this season.
Breakout star Kauf leads the way as the top-ranked women’s moguls skier in the world. The 21-year-old from Vail, Colorado, had an incredible three podium finishes in qualifying events this season and is one of the biggest threats to medal for the team at the Games.
Schild, 20, from Rochester, New York, is ranked seventh in the world, while Telluride, Colorado’s Keaton McCargo, 22, and Vail’s Tess Johnson, 17, round out the team and the top-10 world rankings at eighth and 10th, respectively. Schild found the podium two times during qualifying and can’t be counted out to do the same in PyeongChang, either. All four will be making their Olympic debuts.
In men’s moguls, returning Olympian Bradley Wilson, currently ranked seventh in the world, leads first-timers Casey Andringa, Troy Murphy and Emerson Smith. Wilson, 25, of Butte, Montana, finished 20th in Sochi in 2014 and he’s also the younger brother of 2010 Olympic bronze moguls medalist Bryon Wilson. (Injuries slowed Bryon Wilson’s comeback bid toward competing in this year’s Winter Games and he was left off the U.S. team.)
Andringa, 22, made his world cup debut this season to impressive fifth- and seventh-place finishes, and Murphy, 25, earned his spot on the Olympic team after missing out on a chance to go to Sochi four years ago. Murphy was the top-ranked skier for the U.S. entering the season and is currently 12th in the world. Smith, who will turn 20 at the Games, was a silver medalist at the junior world championships in 2016.
Reigning women’s aerials world champion and Olympic veteran Ashley Caldwell is ready to lead the team that includes Kiley McKinnon, of Madison, Connecticut, and Madison Olsen, 22, of Park City, Utah. McKinnon, 22, was the only U.S. woman to meet the objective criteria for Olympic qualification by finishing on the podium twice, once last season and once earlier this month, and is the top-ranked American in the world at No. 8.
Caldwell competed at both the 2010 and 2014 Games, finishing 10th both times. But she proved herself as a medal favorite when she won the 2017 world title and became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting, triple flip, named “The Daddy.” The 24-year-old has finished on the world cup podium 12 times, including a third-place finish last month in China.
She will hope to become the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal in aerials in 20 years.
While McKinnon is making her Olympic debut, she is also a strong podium contender, having won silver at he 2015 world championships, also clinching the world cup crystal globe that season, and reaching the world cup podium eight times in her career.
Olsen, meanwhile, made a strong case for her first Olympic team with a fourth-place finish at a world cup earlier this month and a fifth-place finish at last year’s world championships.
Men’s aerials world champion Jon Lillis will be making his Olympic debut looking to duplicate the success he had at the end of last season.
He and Caldwell became the first Americans to win the world titles together in 22 years.
The 23-year-old from Rochester, New York, will be joined by 2014 Olympian Mac Bohonnon, the 22-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, who is a childhood friend of McKinnon and the reason for her entering the sport, as well as Eric Loughran, 22, from Pelham, New Hampshire.
Lillis is the top-ranked American at No. 10, followed directly by Bohonnon at No. 11. Loughran finished eighth at the Lake Placid World Cup on Saturday and is 17th in the world.
— Bruce Sayler contributed to this report for buttesports.com.