Olympics: Peterson, St Onge qualify for men’s aerials final, all Canadians make cut

CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, BC (FEB. 22) – Every spare snow crystal on the sparsely covered Cypress Mountain was pushed to the aerials course tonight for the men’s qualification. A crowed nearly 9,000 showed up to cheer on the jumpers in clear, cold weather as 25 of the world’s best high flyers were given two jumps to score within the top 12 and qualify for Thursday’s medal round.

One of the biggest shocks of these games came tonight when this season’s overall World Cup titleholder Anton Kushnir of Belarus was eliminated from the final after missing the landing of his second jump and losing a ski. The mistake pushed him to the 15th position. It was the first gap in his armor that competitors have seen all season as the 25-year-old landed on every World Cup podium this season and won four events.

Chinese jumper Jia Zongyang led the field tonight with a combined score of 230.28.

The American team, which came to Vancouver without a World Cup podium this season, had a solid night led by defending World Champion Ryan St. Onge, who landed a back double full, full, full to take the night’s second-highest score of 229.67. St. Onge hasn’t finished better than 13th at a World Cup competition this season since the season opener.

“I don’t worry about my scores too much,” said St. Onge. “I have had a lot of trouble landing this year. To come out today and land two jumps the way I wanted to is unbelievable.”

Three-time Olympian Jeret “Speedy” Peterson performed two high degree of difficulty jumps to finish in the fifth spot.

“There are some studs jumping for sure,” said Peterson. “Today, the name of the game is to land your two jumps and for the finals, it’s time to step it up. I’m pleased with both of my take-offs. I was really focused on both and I hit them both.”

U.S. Ski Team newcomer Matt Depeters landed both of his jumps but was punished for his low degree of difficulty and finished outside the finals cut in 17th place.

“I’m ecstatic, can’t ask for more,” said Depeters. “It’s just an honour to be at the top and jump with those guys. At the top of the in-run, you hear everyone down [there], you try to focus but I definitely had a smile on my face. It’s a Gold medal for me right now, I’m so happy.”

Scotty Bahrke, who was called into action when teammate Dylan Ferguson fell ill following an appendectomy, missed the landing of both of his jumps and slipped to the 23rd spot. Bahrke’s sister, moguls skier Shannon Bahrke, won a bronze medal on the same hill just over a week ago.

The Canadian team had a rough World Cup season as well, not hitting a World Cup podium until the penultimate competition in Lake Placid where Warren Shouldice and Ryan Blais (who just missed the Canadian Olympic squad) finished 2,3.  The home cooking did the trick in Cypress tonight as all three Canadian jumpers made the grade for Thursday’s final. Shouldice, Steve Omischl and Kyle Nissen finished 6,8,9 to qualify for the final and a chance to win an Olympic medal on the course adjacent to the moguls course where fellow Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau last week won the first home gold medal for the host nation.

“It was very solid. Pretty much exactly what I came out to do,” said Shouldice. “You can’t win the Olympics today, you can only lose it.”

In a true show of Olympic spirit, Australian jumper David Morris, who just missed the finals in 13th place, tossed off his helmet to reveal a half green, half yellow dye job and whooped up the crowed, which cheered his enthusiasm vigorously.

Defending gold medalist Han Xiaopeng was eliminated after finishing 21st. No man has ever successfully defended an aerials Olympic gold medal. 

The men’s aerials final will take place Thursday Feb. 24 at 6:00pm.

Olympic freestyle action will continue at Cypress Mountain tomorrow as women’s ski cross will make its Olympic debut with a qualifying round starting at 10:30 am.

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