After capturing gold in the women's freestyle skiing aerials event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Belarus cemented its status as the sport's dominant nation on Monday with Anton Kushnir's gold-medal triumph on the men's side.
Kushnir laid down a huge score in the third of three final runs, and he topped the podium, with Australia's David Morris nabbing silver and Jia Zongyang of China taking bronze.
After 12 out of 21 men qualified for the finals, three rounds of jumps decided the medalists. That field of 12 was initially whittled down to eight, as seen here:
In Final 2, the field was cut in half, with four aerialists making the ultimate final:
Since no jumper could use the same jump more than once in the finals, an interesting risk-reward game broke out. Here's how the final standings played out:
With such a sizable group of evenly matched competitors and so much strategy involved, men's aerials proved to be one of the Winter Olympics' most exciting events. Here is a look at the biggest takeaways from the finals in Sochi.
Anton Kushnir Blows Out Field in Final 3
Kushnir was one of several Belarusian aerialists with an opportunity to win a medal on Monday, but his mixture of high-risk jumps and execution allowed him to rise above the rest. After Morris set the pace with the opening jump in the final round, Kushnir decided to take a chance. He attempted a back double full-full-double full, which is the most difficult jump in aerials with a degree of difficulty of 5.000.
A miss could have left Kushnir off the podium, but he nailed it. The judges awarded him a score of 134.50, which was the best of the entire competition, per Jason Stahl of NBCOlympics.com:
Anton Kushnir's score of 134.50 is the highest of any skier in any round in men's #aerials. He's in first and is guaranteed a medal.— Jason Stahl (@stahl_jason) February 17, 2014
Nailing that trick subsequently forced both Chinese jumpers to equal Kushnir's effort, but they were unable to land their jumps. That, in turn, was a big help to Morris, who captured Australia's first-ever men's aerials medal, according to Skyler Wilder of NBCOlympics.com:
David Morris of Australia has earned the first medal for MEN in his country 'shistory of #aerials! now the question, will he stay in 2nd?— Skyler Wilder (@NorthWestWilder) February 17, 2014
Wilder also captured a great photo of Kushnir topping the podium following his dream run in Sochi:
With the win, Belarus became the first nation to repeat as gold medalists in men's aerials, and Kushnir made up for the fact that countryman and 2010 gold medalist Alexei Grishin failed to qualify.
The prevailing thought was that anyone in the field could prevail if they hit the right jump at the right time, and Kushnir certainly did that.
American Mac Bohonnon Bows Out in Final 2
Little was expected of 18-year-old American Mac Bohonnon in his first Olympic appearance, and while he wasn't quite able to finish on the podium, he certainly has something to build on while looking ahead to 2018. The lone Team USA representative in men's aerials barely qualified for the finals in 12th place, but he very nearly gave himself a shot at the medal.
Bohonnon was seventh among the eight aerialists who qualified from Final 1 into Final 2, and he came incredibly close to making Final 3. Bohonnon sat in fourth place with one jumper remaining, but Qi beat him by three points. That resulted in a fifth-place finish overall, and he received plenty of congratulatory messages, including one from American Olympic luger Summer Britcher:
So happy for @MacBohonnon !! 5th in the Olympics, you rule man!— Summer Britcher (@summerbritcher) February 17, 2014
Despite the fact that coming so close to a medal is likely disappointing, simply making it to the Olympics was a huge accomplishment. According to Paul D. Bowker of TeamUSA.org, Bohonnon didn't anticipate being a factor in the World Cup this season, yet he was named Rookie of the Year.
At the beginning of the season I didn't even know if I would have World Cup starts. I didn't have any huge expectations going into this season other than to have a good time and not think about it too much. Getting this award was a really great way to cap off the World Cup season.
Nabbing an Olympic medal would have been icing on the cake for Bohonnon, but it wasn't meant to be. Even so, Bohonnon could be the future of the sport since he will be just 22 years of age during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
His standing heading into the next Winter Games will depend largely upon his development over the next four years, but all signs point to him being a potential gold-medal favorite with the Sochi Games serving as a great stepping stone.
Chinese Disappointment Leads to Bronze
China entered the 2014 Winter Olympics with visions of a podium sweep in men's aerials, as it brought four legitimate medal contenders to Sochi, but the Chinese fell well short of their ultimate goal. China did make the podium, but it was a mere bronze for Jia Zongyang.
Should China have been more conservative?
The disappointment started early for China, as world No. 1 aerialist Liu Zhongqing didn't make it out of qualifying after two falls. China still took three men to the finals, with Wu Chao crashing out in Final 1. Zongyang and Qi Guangpu made the final four, but their over-aggressiveness ultimately cost them.
Had the Chinese jumpers gone the safe route, they probably could have won silver and bronze. Instead, they tried to match Kushnir's jump, but neither landed it cleanly.
Per Wilder, Qi went for the gusto, and he came up short:
5 full rotations & 3 flips, that was crazy, no Qi Guangpu will attempt the same! #aerials but did not make the landing...— Skyler Wilder (@NorthWestWilder) February 17, 2014
Zongyang did the same, but since three medals are awarded, he was still able to salvage a bronze. China came into Sochi expecting gold, and those expectations led to ill-advised risks. Even near-perfect lands of the back double full-full-double full may not have usurped Kushnir atop the podium, but China does deserve some respect for throwing caution to the wind.
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