University of Utah grad Megan Nick wins a surprise bronze in Olympic aerials

The Salt Lake athlete became the first American woman to medal in the sport in 24 years

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Megan Nick (USA) competes in women's aerials at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.

Zhangjiakou, China • Megan Nick twisted in the wind above the aerials jumps at Genting Snow Park. She laid down a nearly perfect jump in the final of the Olympic women’s aerials competition,  but it was a double twist and — showing the progression of the sport in recent years — the last four competitors all planned to throw a higher scoring triple.

Four runs later, it was Nick’s emotions that were twisted.

The Salt Lake City athlete had weathered the onslaught to become the first American woman to win an individual medal in the sport in 24 years. But teammate Ashley Caldwell, 28, who had entered the super final as the top seed, had leaned too far back when landing her triple. As a result, she finished fourth.

After the competition, Caldwell, who won gold in the team event two days earlier, would say wryly: “I’ve won gold and finished fourth, and I think that’s the best and worst places you can get.”

Nick agreed. Being ahead of her wasn’t much better.

“I really wanted her to be on that podium,” Nick said. “Knowing I was in third and she got knocked to fourth, that was a bittersweet moment because I wanted her to do her best as well.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bronze medalist Megan Nick (USA) , left, and Ashley Caldwell (USA) celebrate at women's aerials at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.

Xu Mengtao of China made the Genting Snow Park erupt when she landed her back-full-full-full on the second-to last jump of the night. The small number of spectators, plus a plentiful gathering of volunteers and officials, knew her score would be difficult to beat. In the end, it proved impossible. She won the first gold for the host country, which has the most Olympic aerials medals of any nation.

Afterward she raised China’s flag over her head and shouted, “We win!”

“I wanted to shout out,” Xu, 31, said via an interpreter. “I was so happy, exhilarated, excited when I made the landing. I reveled in the moment and wanted it to last longer. I was looking upon the course and into the stands and saw so many people cheering for me, and I wanted to tell people that I won today.”

Defending gold medalist Hanna Huskova of Belarus, who also successfully landed a back-full-full-full, took the silver.

Nick qualified fifth in the six-woman super final and had to wait to see if her score would stand up.

“I knew it was going to be challenging because the field, they’re so good and everyone is jumping at such a high level that I knew I had to put down a good jump,” Nick said. “I don’t have triples, so I knew it had to be a nice, triple twisting double. I’m just relieved that I was able to do that.”

No Team USA woman has won a medal since Nikki Stone took gold in Nagano in 1998. The last medal — except for the gold won by Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld in the new mixed team event —  won by any member of the American squad was Jeret Speedy Peterson in 2010.