Mac Bohonnon: Team USA¹s lone ranger of aerials
KRANSNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The fate of aerials gold for America was in the skies and landing ability of 18-year-old Mac Bohonnon. The lone American to compete in men’s aerials in Sochi did not reach the podium Monday night, but this first-time Olympian’s performance was something to be remembered.
Bohonnon was the only skier on the entire freestyle skiing team that competed alone in his respective discipline, making for another layer of unfamiliarity during his first appearance at an Olympic Games. Despite being the only man out there for his country competing that evening, he jumped with confidence knowing some compatriots were nearby.
“Ashley [Caldwell] and Emily [Cook] are obviously not competing with me but they are my teammates and they have been very supportive,” said Bohonnon, the first-time Winter Olympian. Caldwell was watching along the proverbial sidelines while Cook offered commentary in the announcers booth.
Bohonnon, who grew up in Madison, Connecticut, also had some spiritual guidance, donning a silver necklace with a light blue gem of sorts in the center of a skier, representing that of a deceased teammate.
“This is a necklace of one of our teammates who passed away (in July, 2011), Jaret (“Speedy”) Peterson. Our coach Matt Sanders got these for all of us. I’m proud to be wearing this right now. Speedy is in mind.”
Bohonnon debuted his skillset to the world and regardless of what was expected of him, he knew he had what it took to ski competitively never selling himself short for a second. His poise between jumps spoke volumes to his mental strength and confidence.
Not only the youngest competitor in the field of men’s aerialists, Bohonnon had yet to compete in even a World Championship, making him a true wild card. Bohonnon garnered some recognition during the recent World Cups when he finished a career best of second place in Val Saint Come, Quebec, leading to him making the U.S. team.
Bohonnon found out about making Team USA while writing a paper on Earnest Hemingway’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” for his AP English class.
Unsure as to how exactly his night would unfold, he did his best to keep the night in perspective.
Still, being the only one to represent your country can naturally create a lot of unnecessary pressure. Bohonnon would not be fazed.
“It’s definitely tough to be the only shot, but I’m not really putting any of that pressure on myself. I’m just trying to come out and do the best I possibly can.”
The Sochi Games were only meant to be a test drive of sorts with the bigger picture of preparing for the 2018 Games on the horizon. A similar situation Ashley Caldwell was in four years ago as a 16-year-old when she qualified for Vancouver. Unbeknownst to his competitors, Bohonnon would come in strong and land tricks that he had only just learned and never attempted in a competition.
Proving to be at the top of his game this week, Bohonnon landed his first full-double-full-full, a quadruple-twisting backflip, in a practice session only two days prior. He followed that up with two more during his alpha Olympic performance with one in the qualification round and another during the finals. Bohonnon advanced to the second of three finals and finished his evening in fifth place overall — an accomplishment only he saw coming.
“I knew that if I jumped to my abilities I would absolutely make it [into the finals] and that’s exactly what I did.”
His finish was a proud moment for himself and his country by the nights end.
But why was he alone on this endeavor?
Knowing that his sport has been one of lesser interest since the days of Nagano where Team USA reigned supreme taking the gold in both the men’s and women’s aerials events — a feat that was replicated for the first time since during these Games by the Belarusians — Bohonnon had the passion and the mindset to make his sport thrive on the Olympic stage for the red, white and blue.
“It doesn’t get a ton of exposure. Every four years at the Olympics everything gets a lot of exposure and then there’s quite a bit of interest. I mean how could there not be guys watching doing this stuff. It’s crazy. It’s awesome.”
Speaking to the decline in participants, the sole U.S. representative had nothing but enthusiasm as he reflected on the bits of progression from recent years.
“People are kind of doing the same tricks, but they are doing them — not to take away or discredit from the guys back then — better and bigger, and the jumps are bigger now. Obviously there are new tricks. Guys are doing quint-twisting triple backflips and whatnot.”
If these Games and Bohonnon’s performance proved anything, it was that America still had fight and passion in the men’s aerials event, and that the recently overhauled format for competition is serving as a fresh take on one of the original freestyle skiing events.
“I think [this new format] is great for the sport. It doesn’t totally change what we are doing but it changes the way you compete and adds strategy,” said Bohonnon with aspiration to his speech as he continued to praise the revamped formula. “It gives you more chances and it’s [about] consistency, which is the biggest struggle to find in our sport and the most important thing, and [the new format] rewards that.”
There is a bright future ahead for both the sport of aerials undergoing change and that of the young gun Bohonnon who leaves Sochi with a newly found bode of confidence and excitement for the future.
When asked if he expected to return to the Games, he snapped back without a second of hesitation. “Absolutely! Hopefully we will be talking after I win a gold medal in South Korea.”
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