DEER VALLEY — Michael Rossi's goal was pretty simple — stay on his feet when he landed his jumps in Friday's World Cup aerials competition at Deer Valley.
It turned out his one goal was enough to earn him his first FIS World Cup podium.
"I just wanted to land my jumps," said the 18-year-old after earning a third-place finish in just his second year of competing in freestyle World Cups for the U.S. Ski Team. "That's always my goal."
Landing cleanly turned out to be an issue for even the world's best aerialists in Friday night's competition, including China's Jia Zongyang, the No. 1-ranked skier in the world. He fell backward on his landing in the finals, giving Rossi the better score by 10 points.
Maxim Gustik of Belarus earned the win with 117.85 points, while Canada's Travis Gerrits was second with a score of 115.83. Rossi earned bronze with a score of 111.37.
As other skiers struggled to stay on their feet in the new format, which requires athletes to compete with three different jumps in three rounds of finals, Rossi managed to hang on without reducing his degree of difficulty.
"I squeaked in each time to the round of eight, to the round of four, and I was so stoked," said Rossi. "I still consider myself a rookie of the sport. I have a World Cup podium. It hasn't even set in yet."
Rossi is the U.S. Ski Team's second athlete to come through the team's development program and earn a World Cup podium. The New Jersey native started by doing tricks on a trampoline in his back yard, and then saw a future in it when he visited Park City and gave the water ramps a try.
"He moved to Park City a couple of years ago ... and this result is amazing," said U.S. Ski Freestyle Director Todd Schirman. "The three-jump format is the Olympic and world championship format and it definitely takes more strategy because you need three different jumps in the final."
As other athletes either saved tougher jumps for later rounds or tried easier jumps in an attempt to advance, Rossi said he never wavered in his plan. His result, according to Schirman, won't just give him confidence, but it will likely inspire the other athletes in the development program.
"It's an amazing thing for our development program, our recruiting system and our coaches," Schirman said. "We knew he could do it."
Rossi's parents and other relatives were in the crowd to watch him compete.
"This gives me so much confidence," he said grinning. "I know what I'm capable of. And I'm so glad I got to throw down in front of the hometown crowd. It was just awesome. ... It's the greatest feeling."
On the women's side, three-time Olympian Emily Cook made it to the second final of eight athletes with the top score. But in the jump that would have put her in the third final of four skiers, she fell backward on the landing.
"Honestly, I thought I was good," she said. "I just miscalculated a tiny bit there at the end. I didn't think I was quite as big as I was and I don't know. It was a little tricky with some wind up there, but honestly I was flipping so slowly, I thought I was perfect. But I was just off by a little bit — just a small mistake. Obviously in this sport, you can't make small mistakes." Cook said she was still happy with her preparation and the degree of difficulty she is training for under the new format.
"This was definitely a breakthrough week for training for me," she said. "I'm bummed not to be on the podium here at home."
Mengtao Xu won her fourth World Cup with a score of 116.90. She was the only woman to land three triples in each of the three finals, and her score was high enough that she'd have earned a silver medal in the men's competition.
"I feel very good," she said. "I'm very excited because I did the lay-double-full-full and it's a high (degree of difficulty). I had good air, good landing, and I'm very happy."
Australia's Laura Peel was second with a score of 78.25, while Xin Xhang was third with a 77.55. Only Xu had a clean landing among the female competitors.
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