Led by an insane jump from 2021 world silver medalist Chris Lillis, the U.S. on Thursday defeated overwhelming favorite China and claimed mixed team aerials gold in the event's Olympic debut at the 2022 Winter Games.
Lillis stomped a back double full-full-double full – five twists and three flips – to record a 135.00 in Final 2, the biggest score of the night, while China's Jia Zongyang front-flipped his attempt's landing, ultimately spoiling China's anticipated title in the event.
"This has been a three-year process for us, for me getting ready for this Olympic Games and being able to throw those quintuple-twisting triples," Lillis said. "I was just happy to get the opportunity to throw one and to put it down.”
The U.S. advanced out of Final 1 on 2017 world champion Ashley Caldwell's back full-full-full, and her boyfriend Justin Schoenefeld's back double full-full-full, two jumps that received respective scores of 104.31 and 124.43.
Lillis then carried the team in Final 2 with his massive trick, among the best-ever performed in Games history. With the U.S. in the lead entering the final jump, and needing a score of 136.29, China's Qi Guangpu stuck a back double full-full-full but came up short with a score of 122.17.
Lillis, Caldwell and Schoenefeld together tallied 338.34, just ahead of China's 324.22. Canada took bronze with 290.98. Lillis and Schoenefeld lost to Qi and Xu Mengtao at a Dec. 13 World Cup in Ruka, Finland, taking silver.
"I couldn’t be more excited," Caldwell said. "This is my fourth Games, and I’ve been in the hunt for a gold medal my entire career. To do it with these guys is incredible. Chris has been like a brother to me forever, and Justin is the love of my life, so that really helps (laughs)."
The gold is USA's first medal in aerials since Jeret Peterson's silver at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and its first title in the discipline since Eric Bergoust's gold at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Mixed team aerials consists of three athletes with no more than two per gender – either two men and a woman, or two women and a man – each taking one jump to produce a total score.
Four teams advance from Finals 1 to 2, where the format's repeated to determine a winner. Each round begins with a woman and ends with a man.
Aerialists are scored on three components: 20% air (takeoff, height, distance), 50% form (body position, separation), 30% landing, all multiplied by the degree of difficulty.