Aerials: 2016/17 Season Preview
21 November 2016 08:39
The FIS Freestyle skiing aerials World Cup season will see seven competitions at six different venues spread out across Asia, Europe and North America in 201/17, beginning with back-to-back competitions on December 17 and 18, 2016, at China’s Beida Lake resort.
The Beida Lake weekend will follow in the recent tradition established at the season-opening Beijing competition over the past several seasons, with one traditional aerials World Cup event on the 17th, followed by the popular team event the following day.
From Beida Lake, the aerials World Cup hits its US swing, first at historic Lake Placid just after the holidays and then on to the classic showdown in Deer Valley in early February.
After the North American events it’s back over to Asia for what might be the most hotly-anticipated competition of the year, where the test event for the upcoming PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will be held at Korea’s Bokwang Phoenix Park. With hugely successful slopestyle and ski cross events already in the bag from last season, 2016/17 is the time for halfpipe, moguls and aerials athletes to get a preview of what to expect next winter at the Games, and you can count on the aerialists stepping up for the occasion.
The aerials World Cup then wraps up with a pair of European stops, first in Minsk (BLR), and then at the season finale in Moscow – a nighttime city event that has historically been one of the most memorable stops on tour.
And, as with all of the events under the FIS Freestyle Skiing umbrella (except for big air), the season truly ends for the top aerials athletes in the world at the 2017 Freestyle World Ski Championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain, in March.
Heading into the 2016/17 season it’s tough to get a read on what to expect on the leaderboard. The Chinese aerials dynasty that took eight of a possible 10 aerials crystal globes from 2010-14 has taken a step back in the past two seasons. Last season the Chinese managed to put but one man and three ladies in the top 10, and only one lady – Xin Zhang – in the top five. While for many nations this would be a strong showing, for the Chinese it is cause for concern.
Instead, the top stories of last season was an Eastern European surge on the men’s side, and the second-straight US crystal globe on the ladies’ side.
For the men, the story of the year was Oleksandr Abramenko (UKR), a decade-long tour veteran who managed to pair all his strengths with a newfound consistency to capture the first-ever Freestyle crystal globe of any kind for Ukraine. Belarus’ Maxim Gustik took second overall and Russia’s Petr Medulich third spot, making for career-best years for all three of the top men’s aerialists on the season.
However, with the likes of 2014/15 crystal globe winner Mac Bohonnon (USA) and 2013/14 winner Qi Guangpu (CHN) both having sub-standard seasons last year, and the US brother pair of 18-year-old Christopher and 22-year-old Jonathon Lillis seemingly ready to step up to the ranks of aerials elite, it really is anybody’s game on the men’s side in 2016/17.
On the ladies’ side it was Ashley Caldwell (USA) able to improve on what had been a career-best second-place overall season in 2014/15 to win last season’s crystal globe – the second in a row for the young US ladies team. With seven podiums in 10 events over the past two seasons and a penchant for performing the most difficult jumps of any athletes in any particular competition, Caldwell has firmly established herself as the best ladies’ aerialist in the world right now.
However, Caldwell is not without competition at the top. Second overall in 2015/16 went to Danielle Scott (AUS), who also finished just behind Caldwell the previous season, at third place. While less explosive than Caldwell, Scott’s clean technique and consistency put her in a position to podium at nearly every event she enters. In fact, in five seasons on the World Cup, Scott has only finished outside of the top-10 seven times.
Behind Scott last season were a pair of Russian athletes who, along with their impressive teammates on the men’s side, suggest a renaissance of sorts for the Russian program that seems likely to continue int0 2016/17.
Xin Zhang (CHN) rounded out last season’s top-5. While she was able to pick up a win in Deer Valley last season, along with a second place finish in Beijing, Xin is now 31 years old and entering her 13th season on the aerials World Cup tour, and one would expect her to be trending downward in the latter stage of her career. If the Chinese are going to reclaim their spot on top of the aerials World Cup, it seems clear that some of the team’s younger athletes are going to need to step up, and soon.