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Jaelin Kauf stuns with silver in women's moguls

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ZHANGJIAKOU — Knees pistoning in time to Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” pumping from the grandstand speakers, fists keeping a perfect counterpoint, Jaelin Kauf skied the mogul race of her life Saturday night, and Team USA has its second medal, and second silver, of these Olympic Games.

Born in Vail, Colorado, and now living in Salt Lake City, Kauf ranks 19th in the current International Ski Federation rankings, below all three of her Team USA teammates. But she came through with three straight gems in the freestyle skiing mogul finals, holding off everyone except gold medalist Jakarta Anthony of Australia, who won on the final run of the night. Russia's Anastasiia Smirnova brought home the bronze.

“I felt pretty in control for all my runs,” Kauf said shortly after finishing. “My least in-control was the last run. Every run I was just fighting every turn to give it everything I had.”

The freestyle mogul competition is one of the most physically stressful in the Olympics. Just watching piston-legged Olympians racing down a bump-laden hill causes sympathetic pain in the knees.

TOPSHOT - USA's Jaelin Kauf reacts as she sees her score in the freestyle skiing women's moguls final during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Genting Snow Park A & M Stadium in Zhangjiakou on February 6, 2022. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)
USA's Jaelin Kauf reacts as she sees her score in the freestyle skiing women's moguls final during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. (Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images)

Runs take under 30 seconds to traverse a 235-meter (257-yard) course with a slope of about 28 degrees, pocked by bumps about every 12 feet apart. Competitors use jumps at both ends of the course to execute midair acrobatics. Scoring is a combination of 60 percent mogul turn technique, 20 percent speed and 20 percent jump quality.

The entire progression is an exercise in relentless pruning. Ten skiers from the first qualifying round of 30 advance to the finals. The remainder get one more chance, and 10 more from the second qualifying also advance. The first finals round cuts the field from 20 to 12; the second, 12 to 6; and the third ends with three medalists.

All four Team USA skiers reached the second finals round, where Kai Owens and Hannah Soar were eliminated. Olivia Giaccio hung on as long as she could, but fell in the final round to finish sixth.

Finally, there was only Kauf, standing atop the mountain with four competitors already done and the door wide open for a medal.

“I was thinking about it going up the lift — ‘Oh my God, I’m going up for the medal round!’” she said. “As I was getting closer to being in the gate, I was telling myself what I had been telling myself all day: ‘This is your day. Leave it all out there. Have fun and attack.’ And that’s just what I did.”

Kauf fell just short of the final round in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, finishing seventh. The lessons she learned from that Olympics, however, prepared her for this one.

“I felt so much more prepared to compete on an Olympic stage [this year],” Kauf said. “I didn’t think I had to ski my very best every round of qualifying. I was just skiing to make it to the next round. For these Games, I was skiing to win every round.”

Moguling runs in Kauf’s bloodlines. Her father Scott is a five-time Pro Mogul Tour champion, and her mother Patti Kauf-Melehes is a two-time Pro Mogul Tour champion, with three bronze medals in ski cross at the Winter X Games besides. Kauf’s brother Skyler competed in moguls competitions at the national level in the early 2010s, and also played defensive back for Ithaca.

And now they’ve got an Olympic medalist in the family, too.