LAKE PLACID - An overachiever? Maybe.
A World Cup champion? Definitely.
On her home hill Friday in Lake Placid, Ashley Caldwell captured the first World Cup medal of her career, and the color was golden as she soared to the top of the women's aerials field in the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex.
Ashley Caldwell is hoisted high by her United States teammates after she soared to victory Friday in the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup aerials competition at the Olympic Ski Jump Complex in Lake Placid. The medal was the first World Cup podium finish for Caldwell, who was the U.S. Freestyle Team’s rookie of the year a season ago.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
In a short span of one year, Caldwell has progressed from just making the U.S. Ski Team, to competing in her first Olympics to standing on the top step of a World Cup podium, a finish that caught the 17-year-old completely off guard.
"I'm stunned. I'm thrilled," Caldwell said. "This is so sweet. Last night, I was visualizing what it might be like on the podium. They say if you visualize something enough, it will happen. I was just hoping to get to the podium once this season. I wasn't even thinking about a gold medal. "
Caldwell wasn't the only American to medal in Friday's aerials, as veteran Ryan St. Onge finished second in the men's event. Oddly enough, the silver was the first for the 18-year U.S. Ski Team veteran, who has won nine major international events and finished third once in his career but has never been runner-up.
St. Onge nailed down the silver with a memorable jump in the finals when he cleanly landed a back-double-full-full-full jump.
"I thought the days of doing a jump like that were over for me," St. Onge said. "I'm very excited. This was unexpected, and I'm happy about that. I haven't been training very much. I probably have trained less than everyone out here, but training went really well this week. This week, everything was perfect."
Caldwell, who lives year-round at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid when she's not on the road competing, topped a field of 19 women who are the best aerialists in the world. She stood fifth after the opening round to advance to the finals that included the 12 top jumpers.
Caldwell won the competition by landing a back-full-double-full, which was a jump she hadn't pulled off until training on Thursday.
"I knew if I landed it (in the final), I might break the podium in third," Caldwell said. "I am super excited to put down two on my feet. These two jumps were the best I've done all year."
Before this week, Caldwell had been away from Lake Placid for a three-month stretch. She said she was excited to return to the venue where her young career began.
"The day I got back here, I started sleeping well, I started eating well and I just felt comfortable," Caldwell said. "It felt great competing 50 yards away from where I've been training all summer."
Caldwell finished with 187.65 points to narrowly beat out runner-up Alla Tsuper of Belarus. Xu Mengtao of China finished third.
For the second time in as many weeks, U.S. veteran Emily Cook found herself finishing in fourth place. Cook, a Massachusetts native who now lives in Park City, Utah, stood in 11th place after the opening round to just reach the final. Cook crashed on her last training jump before the final, but rebounded to climb well up in the standings.
"Fourth again," said Cook, who wore a bloodied gash across her nose. "Overall, I'm pretty happy. I was able to come back from a wipeout like that and put down a solid jump. I've got to be pleased with that. I know I'll be hurting tomorrow.
"Normally, I'm excited getting to the podium, but I was really pulling for Ashley," Cook added. "She works as hard, if not harder, than anyone out there, and she is talented. It's a great combination."
Alexa Deveraux was the third American competing in the women's event and finished 18th.
China's Qi Guangpu was the top qualifier in the men's first round, and maintained his standing with a solid second jump to win with 250.70 points. With the victory, Guangpu also held onto the yellow bib worn by the World Cup tour points leader. Anton Kushnir of Belarus placed third.
Five other Americans competed in the men's event, which featured a first-round field of 33 jumpers. Dylan Ferguson joined St. Onge as the only U.S. skiers to advance to the 12-athlete final, where he finished 10th. Also for the U.S., Nevin Brown finished 17th, Michael Rossi placed 22nd, Jonathon Lillis was 27th, Scott Bahrke placed 30th and Hans Gardner finished in 31st place.
The Freestyle Cup moves to Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington for moguls competitions today and Sunday.