Jaelin Kauf bumped out of medals in Olympic moguls
February 11, 2018
BOKWANG PHOENIX PARK, South Korea — Jaelin Kauf has made her success in freestyle moguls skiing with her speed, and she leaned on that trait Sunday evening at Bokwang Phoenix Park, South Korea, site of the 2018 Winter Olympics women's moguls event.
Her speed and her turns got her to the top of World Cup rankings this season, got her to a World Championship podium a year ago and got her to the Olympics this year.
This time, however, a little patience may have paid off.
Kauf advanced to the second of three finals rounds, but there she was bounced by the moguls course and, in turn, bounced from the moguls competition, placing seventh.
"I just rushed a little coming out, was a little impatient to get to the first mogul, and that set me up poorly," she said of the section high on the course after the first jump that gave her trouble.
The United States had all four of its women in the first finals round of 20 skiers and had three advance to the final 12. None made it to the final round of six, however. Keaton McCargo, from Telluride, placed eighth and Tess Johnson, from Vail, was 12th. Morgan Schild placed 15th.
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France's Perrine Laffont pieced together the night's winning run when it mattered the most, scoring in at 78.65 to win the gold medal. Canadian Justine Dufour-Lapointe backed up her 2014 Olympic gold medal with a 2018 silver medal, scoring at 78.56. Kazakhstan's Yulia Galsheva then was third at 77.40.
For Kauf, who attended and graduated from Steambaot Springs High School, missing the final round was the end of a dream, at least temporarily.
She had the second-best score after the first finals run but wasn't clean in the second finals run. She struggled out of the top air, a place where that patience would have come in handy. She wasn't clean through the middle section of the course, either.
"Could have done more," she said of the run. "I made mistakes in the middle, and it was a little sloppy."
It was still nearly good enough. Kauf briefly sat in that sixth-place position until Dufour-Lapointe, with the last run of the round, knocked her out. Galysheva ended up as the sixth-place skier in that round, finishing just 0.75 points ahead of Kauf.
The setback took some processing for Kauf, and she said it will likely take some more.
She rode a tide of momentum into the Olympics, a wave that started building nearly a year ago.
At that point, she was on the verge of losing her chance to start World Cups for the second half of the 2016-17 season. By the time the team arrived in Deer Valley Resort, Utah, for what's traditionally the squad's World Cup highlight, she'd made the 16-skier finals just twice so far that season. She didn't have a strong run in the first Deer Valley World Cup, either, and all the pressure mounted for the second event there, a dual moguls competition.
With her back to the wall, Kauf was at her very best, earning a crucial third-place finish that kept her on the World Cup and rejuvenated her confidence. She was standing atop a World Cup podium less than a month later, and a month after that, she was collecting a World Ski Championships bronze medal.
Everything got even better to start this season. Kauf made podiums in four of the season's seven events so far, and she won two of them. She's comfortably atop the World Cup standings.
She wasn't perfect, but the mistakes were rare, at least until the second round of finals Sunday night.
After it was clear she was eliminated, Kauf made a beeline away from the venue. She stopped by her parents, who were in South Korea with a large contingent of fans cheering Jaelin on.
"I didn't really talk to them," she said. "I hugged them, or they hugged me."
Then, she found a quiet corner away, at least a little, from the flashing lights, booming music and constant roar of the Olympic moguls venue. She FaceTimed with her boyfriend, long-time U.S. Ski Team moguls skier Jeremy Cota.
The hugs helped, she said. Cota helped. The little bit of time that had already passed helped.
"There's still a lot to accomplish," she said. "I wanted to be up on the podium today, but there's still the (World Cup) crystal globe this year, World Champs next year and another Olympics in four years.
"My career is not over after today."
She's been moving so fast for so long, however, she may take a little time to process it all.
Cota "always has great advice to give to me to help me move past," she said. "I'm not all the way there yet, but I want to compose myself, think about moving past this and think about what I can learn and do from here on out."