PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Even as she prepared to throw a trick she’d never attempted on snow, Park City aerial skier Madison Olsen couldn’t keep the smile off her face.
“The adrenaline was just pumping through my body,” she said of gaining confidence with each round she progressed in Friday’s aerial finals at Phoenix Freestyle Park. “I was excited to be out there jumping and having a good time. I was really just enjoying the moment. It was awesome out there.”
The 22-year-old first-time Olympian attacked the full-double full, which is a double back flip in which the first flip is performed with one spin, while the second includes a 720 twist, with a fearless embrace. It looked spectacular in the air, and then she under-rotated a bit and landed falling forward, causing her to basically face-plant on the landing hill.
“It’s surprisingly soft,” she said laughing, as she expressed a little reluctance at trying it again in the near future. Her score of 47.23 meant sixth place in the super final, but she was on the podium until fifth-place Laura Peel bumped her off.
As her last podium was in 2015, she said she was reveling in the experience of standing with some of the world’s best.
“It was pretty cool,” she said, grinning. “It was really inspirational. Makes me want to do better.”
Her joy was palpable as her sixth-place performance was the best Olympic finish for a U.S. woman since Nikki Stone won a gold medal in 1998.
“Absolutely beyond anything I was expecting,” she said of her experience in her first Olympics, which concluded with her making all three rounds of the finals. “Each round I was so excited to make it through and see what I could do.”
Olsen and her teammate, Kiley McKinnon, qualified in the last two spots for Friday’s final. Olsen jumped first, landing a moderately difficult trick cleanly.
McKinnon struggled just a bit on the landing, which prevented her from advancing. She missed making the second round of finals — the top nine jumpers — by one spot.
The aerial gold medal went to Belarus’ Hanna Huskova, who scored 96.14, while China’s Zhang Xin earned silver (95.52), and China’s Kong Fanyu finished with bronze despite a troubled landing because she attempted a triple that earned her 70.14 points.
Despite not making it past the first round of the finals, McKinnon was satisfied with her effort.
“I’m actually really happy with my last jump,” said McKinnon, who moved to Park City to pursue aerials. “In the air it was really good. It was just the landing that got me, it was just a little bit too deep.
"Of course, that was going to get me because that’s one of the biggest parts of aerials is the landing. So I knew as soon as I landed I probably wasn’t going to get the score that I wanted. But overall I was happy.”
There are aspects of the experience that are a reward, even before athletes step on to the field of competition.
“Just to be here, and to be able to say, I’m an Olympian and I competed at the Olympics, is truly amazing,” McKinnon said.
She was thrilled for her younger teammate’s success.
“She just threw a new trick that she’s never done before,” McKinnon said. “Which is awesome. She unfortunately didn’t get it to her feet, but just to say that she did it is pretty awesome.”
Olsen went to dinner with her family Thursday night after earning a spot in the finals through an intense qualifying process. Their advice was pretty simple, and she managed to follow it completely.
“Just enjoy it,” she said laughing, while admitting that some of those smiles at the top of the jump came from hearing her large contingent of support enjoying the moment with her. “I could just hear my family, and it was awesome.”