PARK CITY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Olympic aerialists who live and train in Utah are doing quite well at the Winter Games in Beijing.
University of Utah graduate Megan Nick just became the first American woman in 24 years to win an individual medal, when she claimed bronze on Monday.
Park City residents Chris Lillis, Justin Schoenefeld and Ashley Caldwell helped USA win gold in the team event last week, pulling off a major upset over China.
It takes a variety of skills to fly some 50 feet in the air, pulling off jaw-dropping tricks and sticking the landing. Interestingly enough, these aerialists come from different backgrounds, from skiing to gymnastics.
“I was a gymnast until 17 years old,” Nick said. “I competed, and I decided for a school project to attend the Lake Placid tryout camp, and that’s how I got into aerials, so the skiing was harder for me to learn versus the acrobat side.”
“I came from the skiing side and had no acrobatic experience,” said aerialist Winter Vinecki. “I didn’t do gymnastics, I didn’t do trampoline, cheerleading, none of that. So I didn’t know how to do any of the flips and twists before this. But I did have the skiing side. So I knew how to how ski and I felt comfortable on ski. So when it comes to landing, I usually feel pretty comfortable.”
These athletes have to have a dare devil spirit in them. But make no mistake, they know how dangerous this sport can be.
“I think that is one of the biggest misconceptions about us as athletes that we jump, train and compete fearlessly and we’re just daredevils and crazy people,” said Lillis, who lives and trains in Park City. “Yeah, we definitely have some of that stuff going on where we’re a little bit more wiling to chuck yourself up 50-plus feet in the air than the average person would be. But I think where aerialists excel is just being able to tolerate that fear, to be able to tolerate those nerves.”
Having practiced their tricks hundreds of times, the biggest trick may be mental, when the skiers visualize their jump in the heads over and over.
“Visualization is really important,” Vinecki said. “So at the top of the hill, we’re going through our jumps in our heads and even doing the arm movements and everything on the hill getting ready to go. So we know what trick we’re doing, and we can have it perfectly visualized in our head so we can perform at our best when the time comes.”