Aerialists Emily Cook, Ashley Caldwell elevating for Sochi
By Michael C. Lewis | Special to The TribuneFirst published Jan 08 2014 09:11AM
One is a seasoned, thirtysomething veteran whose long career has been torpedoed by calamitous injuries at the worst possible times. The other, an up-and-comer 14 years younger, herself coming off two devastating injuries and hoping like her mentor for a triumphant moment at the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia.
Meet Emily Cook and Ashley Caldwell — freestyle skiing acrobats, longtime road roomies, and fairy-tale endings waiting to happen.
"I want to be able to walk away from my career knowing that I did absolutely everything," Cook said. "There is not a day that has gone by that I have not put my complete heart and soul into my training in every aspect. I really feel like coming away from Sochi, I will be able to do that. I’m planning on putting down my best performance, and I know if I do that, I can come away with that medal."
"I’m so jacked," she says.
The fellow Park City residents and former gymnasts are expected to be among the top aerials competitors at a World Cup freestyle skiing competition at Deer Valley this weekend — the event includes one aerials competition and two moguls races, in which defending Olympic champion Hannah Kearney figures to star — hoping to perfect the tricks they will break out next month in Sochi.
The Olympics run Feb. 7-23, with the women’s aerials competition on Feb. 14 at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
"I’m really strong," Caldwell said, "and I am prepared and confident that this year is going to go really well."
That would be a wonderful change, for both of them.
While the 34-year-old Cook did enjoy the best season of her career last year, she has been besieged by injuries at all the wrong times. The Massachusetts native missed the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics after breaking both of her ankles just two weeks before the Games opened, then finished a disappointing 19th at the 2006 Turin Games in Italy, having had barely a year to prepare after the long recovery from her broken bones.
In 2010, she was out for six weeks before the Vancouver Games with bruised heels, and wound up 11th — one spot behind Caldwell and two spots behind now-retired Lacy Schnoor of Draper.
Caldwell, meanwhile, missed the last two years after tearing one knee ligament after the other. The 20-year-old Virginia native tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee first in 2012, then ripped the same ligament on the left side almost as soon as she returned to jumping on snow last year.
"I’m getting good at it," she joked, "but I’m never going to do it again."
Recovering from those agonizing setbacks has helped mature a relationship between the women that was once somewhat parental, given the age difference. Now, it’s "more like an aunt-niece relationship," Caldwell said.
"It’s closer to peers," she said. "We help each other, instead of, ‘Oh, gosh, what do I do, Emily?’ That’s the way it started. … Now, we don’t even have to talk about it. She just has to give me a look and I’m like, ‘I understand. I gotcha.’"
The big question now is how they will fare in Sochi.
The competition at Deer Valley is just the third of five World Cup events for aerials and moguls before the Olympics, and only Caldwell has medaled in either of the first two, winning silver in the season opener in Beidahu, China. She did not reach the final in the other event in Beijing, while Cook was fifth there after missing the final in Beidahu.
But Cook reached the top five three times last season, including a victory in the season finale in the Ukraine, while Caldwell has been working on a breakthrough full, double-full, full jump. She is the first American woman and one of just three women in the world to perform the jump with three flips and four twists, and it could give her a big boost in Sochi.
That would be helpful for somebody who expects more pressure than her first Olympics, when she made the team as a 16-year-old on the strength of just two World Cup competitions.
"There was no real stress, I kind of just enjoyed the Games for what they were," Caldwell said. "Now I’m going in knowing that I want to perform well. I want to show what I’ve been doing the past years and how I’ve come back from injury and worked really hard. So I think there will be more pressure, but I will try to keep that element that I was happy and excited and just enjoying the Games, too, because I think that really helps me, specifically, with my performance. I don’t do so well when I start freaking out."
Cook has been helped not only by her ability to finally stay healthy — knock wood — but by the arrival of coach Todd Ossian after the Vancouver Olympics, when former coach Matt Christensen left the team to work with Red Bull North America.
Ossian has provided a fresh perspective and some new ideas, something that has been a "huge benefit" for Cook as she gears up for one last run at a medal.
"I have yet to perform my best at the Olympic Games," she says. But "I know that I have done every bit of preparation possible going into this Games that I’ll walk away satisfied, regardless of what happens, for sure. Guaranteed."