Jaelin Kauf takes podium twice at Deer Valley moguls World Cup, ensuring a spot at Pyeongchang | VailDaily.com

Jaelin Kauf takes podium twice at Deer Valley moguls World Cup, ensuring a spot at Pyeongchang

Ben Ramsey
The Park Record

When Jaelin Kauf finished her qualifying run at the FIS Visa Freestyle International Ski World Cup at Deer Valley Resort on Wednesday, she was in 16th place — the lowest possible position to enter the finals. It was not entirely uncharted territory for the Alta, Wyoming, native and Park City-based athlete. She said she has performed well after placing 13th and 14th in other World Cup events, but finishing at the bottom of the qualifying bracket meant she had to step up her game. The large crowd below, replete with fans waving sticks mounted with her initials — J and C (for Charlotte, her middle name) — added pressure. Being one good performance away from a secure spot on the U.S. Olympic Team also added pressure. She had met the objective criteria for qualification the week before. However a podium at Deer Valley would cement her spot going into the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She would be locked in.

Despite that pressure, she said, there is also something freeing about sitting in last going into the finals.

"You have nothing to lose," she said. "You can't go down any further. You gotta push it and hope for the best."

In her finals run, she finished in 28.89 seconds, earning her 78.19 points and fifth place going into the super finals. She was a single spot off the bottom – further up the pack, but not out of the woods.

She upped her game again in the super finals (the final heat, with six competitors), racing to the bottom of Champion run in 28.57 seconds – the fastest of the round – and earned 79.57 points.

As the second person to go, she watched her competitors skiing down, but only Perrine Laffont of France could best her score, and Kauf finished second overall, clinching her spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. She took the podium draped in the American flag, alongside Megan Schild, who finished third.

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Then, in the second night of competition Thursday, which counts as a second World Cup event, she took first.

Laffont and Schild, finished second and third, respectively, on Thursday. At this point in Kauf's season, any added points were icing on the proverbial cake in terms of Olympic hopes – they are training runs to help boost her confidence and assert her dominance over the field. From a longer, broader view, additional wins help her accrue World Cup points and keep her on track to win the circuit.

Her success already represents a leap in results for the 21-year-old — at least in moguls. In previous years, she established herself as a dual moguls racer. Last season, she took third in dual moguls at the World Ski Moguls Championships and 21st in single moguls.

"I worked hard this off-season," she said. "This year I was able to transfer that dual skiing into the singles event and it's really paid off."

She told reporters after her win that she didn't see wearing the World Cup circuit's yellow leader's jersey as having a target on her back.

"I'm gunning for them just as much," she said. "They are just as fierce competitors and they are pushing me every event, so I feel like we all have bullseyes on our backs."

The difference now is Kauf has nothing more to prove – all the pressure is gone. At least until Pyeongchang.