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Olympics

American Wins Silver Medal, Putting the US on the Women’s Moguls Podium

Chinese-born prodigy Kai Owens, 17, misses the podium after an earlier crash left her with a tweaked shoulder and a shiner so swollen that she couldn’t see out of her left eye.

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In an undeniable display of depth, US skiers took four of the top-10 spots in women’s Olympic moguls on Sunday under the lights in China, led by Jaelin Kauf, the fastest skier in the field, who took silver and put the US back on the podium for the first time since Hannah Kearney’s bronze in Sochi, Russia, eight years ago.

All night, the US was in the mix, beginning with 17-year-old Kai Owens’ run in the last-chance qualifier. Owens’ Olympic debut was highly anticipated. Five days earlier in training, her ski tips dug into the snow upon landing the top jump, and the crash left her with a tweaked shoulder and a shiner so swollen that she couldn’t see out of her left eye. She skipped the first qualifier on Thursday. On Sunday, the Chinese-born prodigy from Vail, Colorado, scored highly enough to join her three American teammates in the final rounds.

USA’s Kai Owens reacts after she fell and got facial injury during a freestyle skiing moguls practice session at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou on February 1, 2022, ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. (Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images)

When the field was cut to 12, all four Americans remained: Owens; Kauf; Hannah Soar, who grew up skiing at Killington; and Olivia Giaccio who made history at a World Cup in December when she landed the first cork 1080 in women’s competition.

Soar skied solidly but missed the cut for the super-final by one spot and placed seventh. Owens ran into trouble above her second air and finished 10th.

The final round featured only six skiers, including Kauf and Giaccio.

Giacco was the first athlete on course for the one-run, winner-take-all round. But the Columbia University student played it safe. She opted not to throw the cork 1080 and placed sixth.

Kauf, the penultimate competitor, flew down the course faster than she had in any other round, covering the 273-yard course in 26.37 seconds. No one was quicker. But speed is only worth 20 percent of the score. Jakara Anthony of Australia ripped out a cork 720 mute grab off the top jump and a backflip mute grab on the bottom and scored the highest for her “airs” (worth another 20 percent), but the Aussie’s cleanest turns were most valuable of all, and her final-run score of 83.09 topped Kauf’s by 2.81 points. With that, Anthony avenged her fourth-place finish at the 2018 PyeongChang Games and claimed Australia’s first Olympic gold in women’s moguls.

“When I crossed the finish line, I had hit everything I was trying to,” Anthony said. “No matter what the outcome was, I was going to be stoked. To see the No. 1 come up to my name was incredible, mind-blowing. I didn’t actually see anyone ski tonight because I was the last one in every round. I don’t look at the scores either. I have no idea what scores they are throwing out, what time, whether they are crashing or not. I was totally in my own bubble.”

Anastasiia Smirnova of the Russian Olympic Committee took the bronze, edging out two women who had been heavily favorited to win: defending Olympic champion Perrine Laffont of France who placed fourth and 17-year-old Anri Kawamura of Japan who placed fifth despite winning three of the seven World Cup events this season.

Justine Dufour-Lapointe’s medal hopes vanished much earlier in the night. The 2014 Olympic champion and 2018 Olympic silver medalist from Canada lasted only about six seconds into the first round of finals. She crashed just below her first air and failed to advance to the top 12 along with her older sister Chloe, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist who finished ninth.

“I don’t know what happened,” Justine said afterward. “I [wanted] to crawl into a mogul and cry there for a while. Sport is not easy, but it’s the best school of life we can find.”

Even Kauf found herself battling a bit. “That last round especially,” she said. “I came out really hot out of the top air, kind of missed the first turn. It wasn’t a flawless run, and I didn’t know what the judges were going to do with that. I really had to stick with it. Every moment in that run, I was just fighting for it. I just wanted it so bad.”

Asked how she generated so much speed, Kauf said, “It’s easier for me, skiing faster, being aggressive. The less thought that goes into it, the faster I go. I can just ski and let it all come to me.”

Kauf’s silver was the seventh US Olympic medal in women’s moguls since the event made its debut at the 1992 Albertville Games. It was also redemption for Kauf’s seventh-place finish four years ago when she said she let the pressure affect her.

Her teammate Owens said she felt a bit of pressure on Sunday, too.

At the top of the course, Owens said, “I feel like I have to slay a dragon. It feels impossible. But when I step in the gate, I realize it’s just a moguls course. I’ve been skiing moguls my whole life so it makes me smile.”

“I’m so proud I was able to step up in the gate today,” Owens added. “I had to go through lots of days of recovery. The first day I couldn’t even move my arm. I was in a sling because of my rotator cuff, and I couldn’t see because of my eye. We did a lot of cupping. I had to pass brain injury safeguards. Our P.T. helped drain the swelling out of my eye. Then we iced it with lots of pressure. It was a long couple of days.”

Four years from now, it’s possible that all four Americans could return.

“All the girls on this team have the ability to be on the podium,” Kauf predicted earlier in the week—and not just the four who competed in China.

“We definitely have more depth that [wasn’t] showcased at the Olympics,” said Giaccio, who was the first alternate on the 2018 Olympic team.

But for now, Soar says she’s proud of her teammates. “We’re such a united team. I’ve been a roommate with Jaelin, and Jaelin’s been in a great headspace all week. It’s been great to watch her and hang onto the coattails. I don’t have any siblings, so I’m basically like the little sister, following around, being with her.”