In keeping with the theme of upsets from the Alpine World Championships, today’s individual Aerials results at the Freestyle World Championships in Bakuriani, Georgia, were again full of surprises and upsets. Aerial events consist of four runs: two qualification runs and two final runs. From the qualification, only 12 skiers advance to the finals. From there, the field is further whittled down, with only six skiers advancing from the first final run to the second final run, also called the Super Final. Only the result of the Super Final counts, putting a lot of pressure on these daring aerial skiers.
The qualifiers were held on Tuesday, February 21, 2023, for the Women, while the Men’s were postponed several times due to inclement weather and finally held on Thursday, February 23, 2023. The Men had a busy day, as the two finals were held on the same day. It was still snowing heavily in Bakuriani, but the competition was cleared to go ahead. However, the dense snowfall threw a curve ball at a few of the favorites.
Qualified in first position in the Women’s event was Australia’s Danielle Scott, the leader of the 22/23 season World Cup standings. The Australian scraped into the Super Final in an unexpected sixth and, thus, last place. While Scott had the most difficult jump with a Back Lay-Tuck-Full-Full, the Australian struggled with landing and finished second. Meanwhile, her teammate and defending 2021 World Champion, Laura Peel, came 7th in the first final, meaning she did not qualify for the Super Final. Her jump in the first final run was the second-highest degree of difficulty. However, she scored comparably poorly, raising eyebrows from the Australian team and TV commentators. It was a big blow for the third-ranked female Aerial skier in the world.
Danielle Scott’s biggest rival, Canada’s Marion Thenault, who is second-ranked in the World Cup standings, qualified in first place in the first final, so was last to start, as the Super Final is run in reverse order. The Canadian put down a great Back-Double-Full-Full jump, but her entire upper body flopped on the ground in her landing, which caused a massive point deduction for the current World Cup leader. The disappointment was written on Marion’s face as she struggled to hold back tears in the finish area. This meant Gold went to China’s Fanyu Kong, currently ranked 17th in the World Cup standings, while Bronze went to Anastasiya Novosad from Ukraine.
It was a disappointment after winning the Gold in the Mixed Aerials Team event just a few days before. Teammate Kaila Kuhn had qualified in seventh place for the first final, advanced to the Super Final, and came fifth in the end. Winter Vinecki and Megan Nick had failed to advance from the qualifiers to the finals. Likewise, America’s most experienced and decorated female aerial skier, four-time Olympian Ashley Caldwell, failed to progress to the Super Final after qualifying in fourth place into the first final.
Meanwhile, in the Men’s Aerials, U.S. aerial skier Christopher Lillis advanced from the qualifiers to the finals in first place, teammate Justin Schoenefeld in fifth, and Quinn Dehlinger scraped into the finals in 11th place. Lillis advanced to the Super Finals in second place but came a disappointing fourth in the Super Finals, as the veteran skier and Olympian made the mistake of bending his knees in his second last rotation, one rotation too early, costing him valuable points. Lillis was part of the Gold-winning Aerials Mixed Team but missed out on an individual medal today. Justin Schoenefeld, meanwhile, did not advance to the Super Final. So it was unexpected young-gun Dehlinger, who put down a solid run in the Super Finals, stomping the landing of his Back-Double-Full-Full-Full — the same jump as Lillis and the highest degree of difficulty on the day — winning the Silver.
Gold went to Swiss skier Noe Roth who had scraped into the Super Finals in last place and was thus the first starter. Roth gushed in the finish area: “I’m so happy. Just happy. It’s just amazing. I thought I was not going to make the super finals, and I knew I just had to go for it… and I did!” Roth’s mother is Aerial skier Colette Brand who won Bronze at the Nagano Olympics in 1998. It is the first-ever Gold for Switzerland in Aerials at the World Championships. Roth’s teammate, fourth-ranked in the World Cup standings Pirmin Werner, failed to advance from the qualifiers. Bronze went to Yang Longxiao from China, while both the first and third-placed skiers from the first final, Tianma Li from China and Volodymyr Kushnir from Ukraine, crashed their landing, putting them out of reach for any podium position.