Ultimately, Kauf’s performance may have been a surprise to many. But for family and friends, there had been a growing awareness that something special was happening. In only her 3rd World Cup start on Thursday evening, Jaelin sat atop the final group of 16 women and advanced to the super final with the top 6 finishers. In her final run, spectators thought they might be witnessing a winning run, but what appeared to be hand down on the landing of her bottom air knocked Jaelin into 6th place.
At first, the 6th place finish felt more like a loss to the tight knit group of her supporters. After waiving lighted signs, chanting at an almost feverish pitch and literally bouncing for the better part of an hour—the stunned group suddenly grew quiet and still.
Fortunately, the feelings of loss receded quickly.
Jaelin had been the only American in the super final and had finished atop her teammates. This was a great accomplishment. Furthermore, she had recorded the fastest time of the competition and, with speed being a more important factor in the upcoming dual mogul competition, realization that Jaelin could have a big night on Saturday buoyed the group further.
Rumors had also started to spread that, perhaps, Jaelin would be selected to to join and travel with the U.S. Ski Team to the upcoming world cup event in Japan. Leading up to the competition, Kauf was not even listed as a U.S. Ski Team athlete, so while she obviously represents the U.S., she was technically not on the team. With no financial support from the team, Jaelin had been looking at this event as likely her last world cup of the season. So the prospect joining the team would be a huge, and 6th place suddenly didn’t seem so bad.
So it was, along with hundreds of other spectators, Jaelin’s supporters half slid half walked down the darkened ski slopes and made their way home with a small candle of hope flickering for their champion.
In dual moguls, if you win your race, you advance. Lose once and go home. So it was on Saturday evening—as Jaelin won her first, second and third rounds—her supporters began to once again ramp up to a feverish pitch. Jaelin was skiing fast and with confidence.
Jaelin won her next round, and the growing group of family, friends and new supporters began once again to bounce. It was on.
Then it happened…or so everyone thought. In her semi-final round against reigning world champion—Canadian Justine Dufour-Lapointe—Jaelin accelerated in the middle section of the course, passing Lapointe. She landed her final air and burst across the finish line ahead of Lapointe. By now, everyone in the crowd was behind the new American darling and the entire venue exploded in celebration. But it was short-lived. Jaelin’s speed advantage was not enough to overcome Lapointe’s advantage in aerial points, and the judges gave Lapointe the win.
Mogul competition judging is subjective and sometimes political. Competitors grow up winning and losing at the whim of the judges call—good or bad. Instead of dwelling on what didn’t happen, competitors must consider what did happen. So while many believed Jaelin had beat Lapointe, Lapointe is the world champion. And regardless of the pain from a loss: knowing your girl had almost beat that champion was a wonderful feeling.
Jaelin’s supporters quickly rallied and once again came alive. In the race for 3rd place, Jaelin bested fellow teammate Mikaela Matthews to finish 3rd, becoming the first rookie to podium ever at this event.
And to top it off? Jealin did get that rumored invite to join the team as a full-time resident. So it’s off to Japan then Russia for Kauf.
Were Jaelin to go on and win gold in the Olympics, I doubt the emotional impact would be higher than it was this weekend for her, and her family and friends. This was Jaelin’s breakout moment. This was the event where a world champion barely escaped losing to a rookie. Where the world was introduced to a rising star. Where America had found a new darling. And I venture to say that many of us will always remember this event as Jaelin’s crowning achievement.
For all results, including moguls, dual moguls and aerials, visit the US Ski Team web site.