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Gregory Bull, AP
Kiley McKinnon, of the United States, jumps during the women's aerials qualifying at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.
I'm super happy to make it though, and excited to so some more jumps tomorrow. —Madison Olsen

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Park City aerial skier Madison Olsen stood at the top of the hillside overlooking the giant snow kickers that would send her catapulting into the air over the crowd and took slow, deep breaths.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” the 22-year-old said after she became one of 12 skiers to qualify for the aerial finals in her first Olympic Games Thursday night. “I did not think I was going to make it through for a second. …It was so overwhelming. I was standing at the top, and I couldn’t figure out if I was shaking because I was cold or nervous. I just tried to breathe through it and put down some nice jumps.” As Olsen talked with reporters, she couldn’t keep the smile off her face or quiet the large contingent of family that had flown to Pyeongchang to watch her live a life-long dream.

“It’s awesome,” she said, laughing. “I’m super happy to make it though, and excited to do some more jumps tomorrow.”

Olsen and her teammate Kiley McKinnon had to endure a nailbiting finish as they were tied (87.88 points) for the final two spots in the finals, which will be held at 10 p.m. Friday (Korea Time). The top qualifier was Alexandra Orlova, Russia, who scored 102.22 points.

“I honestly wasn’t sure,” Olsen said of whether or not her tricks were good enough to make the cut. “There were a lot of big tricks being thrown. The qualification round is sometimes the hardest round to get through. And yeah, I made it. So we’ll see.”

As elated and relieved as Olsen and McKinnon were, they both felt gutted for teammate Ashley Caldwell, the reigning world champion who stuck to her plan of throwing the biggest tricks she was capable of competing and didn’t make the final.

On both of Caldwell’s jumps, which were among the highest in degree of difficulty, she couldn’t manage clean landing, slapping back in both cases. Her goal for the last few years has been to try to push women’s aerials forward by competing the most difficult jumps she could, including her piece de resistance the full-double-full-full (a triple flip with four twists), which no other woman has landed in competition.

“The reason I take the risk is I like the reward,” said a somber Caldwell after failing to make the finals in her third Olympic Games. “And when you seize the reward, everyone is all happy, dandy and go lucky, and when you don’t, it either hurts. Or it hurts. Physically or emotionally — and this is an emotional pain, and it hurts right now. …But I am proud that I take those risks and sometimes I do seize the reward, like I did at World Championships.”

In fact, she said one of her regrets of the Sochi Games wasn’t that she failed to earn an Olympic medal, but that she set her sights too low. Throughout the past four years, she vowed not to repeat that mistake.

“That gold medal, I want it so bad,” she said. “I didn’t get it this time, and maybe I’ll go four more years and get it. Or maybe I won’t. But I can still go out there every day and push myself as hard as I can, and I’m proud of that.”

She said she suffered a shoulder injury in training as aerial skiers dealt with the same unpredictable, schedule-shredding high winds that have repeatedly canceled alpine and Nordic events.

"I just started doing full-double-full-full, and that was kind of always my goal is to do four twists," she said. "And I didn't want to just get there, I wanted to get there and do the trick well and be able to complete it and perform well, and I haven't done that quite yet. ...I jumped every day better than I ever have. You know, better this year than I have been in any years past. When I look at the results I don't I don't see that and I'm not exactly sure why or why not."

Caldwell said it may have made preparations more difficult, but then she said that was just an excuse. She is committed to World Championships in 2019 at Deer Valley.

“Yeah, competing at home, that sounds good,” she said, acknowledging the need to get her body healthy before making any career decisions. “I think I still have more in me. This is going to be hard for me to get over, I think.”