American Megan Nick was the only women's aerials finalist to not perform a triple backflip on the last jump Monday, but the Vermonter nonetheless flawlessly executed a less-difficult trick to claim bronze in her Winter Games debut.
Under the lights amid frigid, -11 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, Nick stuck a back full-double full in Final 1 for a 95.17, advancing as the fifth-best qualifier, then nailed the same jump in Final 2 with a clean, square exit to score a 93.76.
Three of the six finalists had poor landings, and Nick – accomplishing the best of what she and her degree of difficulty were capable of – ultimately put forward enough to come away with a podium spot.
"I knew it was going to be challenging because the field is so good. Everyone's jumping at such a high level that I knew I had to put down a good jump. I'm just relieved that I was able to do that," Nick said. "It's taken a long time to get to this level of jumping; I've had a lot of ups and downs."
China's Xu Mengtao captured gold, the first in women's aerials for China. The 2014 Olympic silver medalist and 2013 world champion known as "Taotao" entered as the No. 1 women's aerialist in the world.
Nick's teammate Ashley Caldwell, the world champion in 2017 and runner-up in 2021, put down the two highest-scoring jumps of Final 1 with back lay-full-fulls – triple-twisting triple backflips – for 103.92 and 105.60. But she went too big in Final 2 and slapped back on her landing to take fourth, promptly congratulating her competitors.
"Taotao has been pushing triples for longer than I have, and I respect her wholeheartedly," Caldwell said. "For her to win the gold medal in her own country is an incredible accomplishment and it brought tears to my eyes just as much as sadness did."
Competing in her fourth Games, Caldwell was a member of the U.S. trio – together with Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld – that claimed a stunning gold last week in mixed team aerials. She was the youngest U.S. Olympian at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (placing 10th), then retook 10th in 2014 before finishing 17th in 2018.
"I have a lot of emotions right now. Mostly I feel like there is a lot of relief," she said. "The Olympics is incredibly stressful and we put a lot of heart into what we do. I gave it my all, and it didn’t work."
Belarusian Hanna Huskova, entering as the defending gold medalist, delivered under pressure with a 107.95 for silver, while reigning world champion Laura Peel of Australia was too aggressive on her takeoff and had a bad landing, finishing fifth.
"I'm very happy with all my jumps but in the super final," Huskova said. "I went for a more difficult jump, and I'm happy I could land it very well … I have two medals now but my new plan for the future is to get another gold at Milano Cortina 2026."
Nick is a former gymnast like many of her fellow aerialists. As a senior in high school, she was assigned a project to try something new and decided to attend a tryout camp for aerials – the rest is history. Last season, the 25-year-old earned two World Cup victories in Yaroslavl, Russia, and Raubichi, Belarus.
Her bronze is the first U.S. medal in women's individual aerials in 24 years; Nikki Stone last earned hardware (gold) at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Nick and Stone are the only two Americans to bring home a medal in the event.
"I know that interest in our sport in the U.S. has been dwindling," Nick said, "so I just hope that our gold in the mixed team event and this medal – and hopefully another medal in the coming days – inspires kids around the nation to consider starting aerials."
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