PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The reason American freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell might win an Olympic gold medal this week is the same reason she might finish dead last.
In the high-risk, high-reward world of aerials, Caldwell has never been afraid to take chances.
While most of the women in the competition, where finals are scheduled for Friday, will try double flips, the 24-year-old Caldwell will go for triples every time she flies down the ramp. It's a strategy steeped in an attitude she learned when she was a kid and could do everything the boys could do and more.
"I was 14, they were 13, and I was crushing them," Caldwell said. "I had that acrobatic talent that came from gymnastics, and I'd been skiing all my life. They were great skiers, but I was telling myself, 'I'm doing better.'"
Caldwell, a former gymnast, is a product of a development program the U.S. ski team set up to identify people with talent but not as much experience. This is her third Olympics.
She finished 10th as a 16-year-old in 2010, then came to Sochi with much more experience and a few major victories under her belt. But she was also coming off a pair of knee injuries that hampered her preparation. She went in with no expectations, then suddenly found herself in first after qualifying. She couldn't really believe it. She finished 10th again.
"I wished that I'd mentally prepared to be in a position where I would've been ready to win," Caldwell said.
Since then, she has doubled down on triples.
Last year, Caldwell won the World Championships by becoming the first woman to cleanly land a triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition.
"It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up," said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.
Caldwell hasn't won an event since, however, and her best finish was a third place in China to kick off the 2017-18 season.
The message: There are more consistent jumpers out there. But very few go as big as Caldwell does.
"At this point, Ashley is really her only competitor," Ossian said. "If she does a nice jump and she lands, she's gonna win. If she doesn't land, she's not."
Would it be a better strategy to tone things down, make it safely through the opening rounds, then go for it? Of course. But that's not Caldwell's way.
"There are only so many jumps you can do in your career," she said. "I want to make them all count. When I go out there, I want to win doing my best tricks and I want to lose doing my best tricks, just the same."
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