LAKE PLACID - On a cold evening that turned into a frigid night, freestyle skiers from China were on fire as they captured five of the six podium spots up for grabs in Friday's World Cup aerials competition at the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid.
Mengtao Xu claimed the gold medal to lead a China sweep of the women's podium, while Zongyang Jia and Zhongqing Liu earned first- and second-place finishes for the Chinese men's team.
The World Cup aerials contests are being held under a new format this season that starts with a qualifying round where the top 12 finishers advance to a second round known as the Final. The highest four scoring athletes then move on to the Super Final round where the medals are determined. In the past, there were just two rounds of jumps - a qualifier and a round of 12 - that saw scores from each round combined to determine the outcome.
Dylan Ferguson of the United States sticks a landing during Friday’s World Cup aerials contest at the Olympic Ski Jump Complex in Lake Placid. He was the top American finisher, claiming fifth place in the men’s event.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Under the new format, the slate is wiped clean as a new round begins, which makes for an exciting competition where the top jump takes the gold in the Super Final.
Xu claimed the women's victory with a jump of 93.06 points, while teammates Shuang Cheng and Fanyu Kong followed in second and third with respective jump scores of 85.65 and 81.20 points. Olga Volkova of Ukraine finished fourth with 71.97 points.
After winning the silver medal a week ago at the World Cup aerials season opener in Quebec, American Emily Cook was poised for another run at the podium Friday after turning in the second-best jump in the qualifying round. But as the next-to-last athlete to take the hill in the Final, the 15-year veteran of the United States Ski Team was unable to score enough points to reach the Super Final after putting down a jump that totaled 77.01 points, which landed her in eighth place.
Lee Allison of Connecticut was the only other U.S. freestyler to advance into the second round of 12, and finished one place behind Cook in ninth.
Also for the U.S. women, Madison Olsen placed 13th, Kiley McKinnon finished 15th and Madison Gorelik was 17th. The women's field featured 18 aerialists from seven nations.
Like Cook on the women's side, Dylan Ferguson had an opportunity to represent the U.S. in the Super Final, but fell one place short after landing in fifth. The finish, however, was the top World Cup result of his career, and the 23-year-old from Utah was happy with his performance.
"It was a little disappointing that I got bumped," Ferguson said. "Everyone wants to go the Super Final, but I was able to land two quadruple twisting triples. I was just one place away. It was a big step forward, and hopefully I can get to the Super Final tomorrow."
Ferguson's previous best finish in the World Cup aerials contest was sixth. The 2010 Vancouver Olympian was the only American to advance to Friday's Final round of 12, where his jump totaled 115.93 points.
Jia claimed the victory in a very close competition between the three men's medalists, winning with 128.51 points. Liu was runner-up with a Super Final jump totaling 127.83 points and Anton Kushnir of Belarus rounded out the podium in third with a 126.47 effort.
Canada's Oliver Rochon also reached the Super Final where he placed fourth with a 109.38 point jump.
Also for the U.S. men, Scotty Bahrke placed 15th, Michael Rossi was 16th, Jonathon Lillis finished 18th, Mac Bohonnon was 19th, Hans Gardner placed 22nd and rounded out the men's field in 32nd place.
The aerialists return to action today to close out the three-day Lake Placid Freestyle Cup competition.