The 2017/18 FIS Freestyle Skiing aerials World Cup season is ready to crank things back up after the holiday break, with this Saturday’s Moscow competition setting in motion the most important few weeks of the World Cup season for the men and ladies of aerials as we move towards the end of the qualification period for this February’s PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
With the giant scaffold jump set-up in place just outside the city centre and true rock show always on display when FIS Freestyle competition comes to Moscow, the eighth iteration of the aerials World Cup in the Russian capital promises to be once again a standout on the World Cup calendar.
The Moscow event will be the third of the season after a back-to-back competitions in Secret Garden (CHN) got the ball rolling back in December, where we saw an interesting mix of athletes earning podiums in the season opening weekend.
On the ladies’ side of things the biggest surprise in Secret Garden came from Belarus’ Hanna Huskova, as the 25 year old claimed the first win of her career with a steady performance in the first competition of the weekend, launching a jump with the lowest degree of difficulty in the super final but walking away with the highest score as others perhaps succumbed to the early season jitters.
Behind Huskova in day one at Secret Garden and a repeat second-place finisher in competition too, as well, was last year’s crystal globe winner and likely favourite for a medal in PyeongChang Xu Mengtao (CHN), making for a solid if unspectacular start for the notoriously explosive athlete.
Those two back-to-back runner-up results were enough to give Xu 160 points and the early World Cup lead heading into Saturday’s competition in Moscow, with Huskova in second with 136 points, and Danielle Scott (AUS) in third after following up a disappointing 22nd place finish in the first competition at Secret Garden with a resounding victory on the second day.
Worth noting also was the performance of Alla Tsuper (BLR), as the 38-year-old, who had not competed since her gold medal-winning performance at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, made a surprise return to World Cup in Secret Garden. And a quietly impressive return it was, as Tsuper scored a pair of top-10 results, putting her in seventh overall on the current leaderboard.
Over on the men’s side of things, the host Chinese had to be thrilled about their weekend on home soil, with veteran Jia Zongyang leading the way with back-to-back victories to start the season with a statement performance.
Now in his ninth World Cup season, the aerials crystal globe winner back in 2012/13 and the bronze medal winner at the Sochi Games, Jia struggled mightily the past two campaigns, finishing 14th overall in 2015/16 and then 16th overall last season as he clean landings escaped him for two straight winters.
However, it appears now that the kinks have been ironed out and Jia, along with Qi Guangpu, who sits in second overall on the aerials leaderboard after a fourth and second-place result in Secret Garden, give China an intimidating one-two punch heading towards PyeongChang.
Others to watch out for in the men’s field include Sochi 2014 gold medallist Anton Kushnir (BLR), who made up for a 27th place finish in the first competition of the weekend with a third-place finish in the second event as he ramps up in his bid for a repeat performance in PyeongChang; Maxim Gustik (BLR), who currently sits third overall behind Jia and Qi and finished second at last season’s Moscow event; and Mac Bohonnon (USA), who’s riding a streak of eight-straight top-10s and won the Moscow event in both 2015 and 2016 for two of his three career World Cup victories.
While the first day of training in Moscow was cancelled on Wednesday in order to spend more time perfecting the jumps after a bout of inclement weather, conditions are looking moderately better in the coming days. With all the pieces in place, competition on Saturday is expected to start at 14:30 local time with qualifications, followed by finals under the lights beginning at 20:00.
TV BROADCAST SCHEDULE (FINALS)
Australia & Asia - Eurosport
Eurosport - livestream on Eurosport player
Belarus - Belarus TV
China - CCTV
France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal - SFR3
Germany - Sportschau
Kazakhstan - delayed at 23:35 on QAZSPORT
USA - NBC Olympic Channel