Mac Bohonnon and Kiley McKinnon, who once shared a first-grade classroom, now share the title of World Cup aerials champion.
The freestyle skiers clinched the crystal globes in Minsk, Belarus, last weekend.
The last time a U.S. aerialist claimed a World Cup season title was the late Olympic silver medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson in 2005.
The last time U.S. aerialists claimed both men’s and women’s titles was 1995, when World champion Trace Worthington and 1998 Olympic champion Nikki Stone swept.
Bohonnon and McKinnon shared not only Island Avenue Elementary School in Madison, Conn., growing up but also the same feeling of surprise for capturing the crowns last weekend.
“If we had this conversation in November or December, I definitely would not have told you that I thought this was possible,” Bohonnon said.
“I really wasn’t expecting this,” McKinnon said.
Start with Bohonnon, who is 19. He was an upstart qualifier for the 2014 U.S. Olympic team and finished an impressive fifth in Sochi.
Back in October 2011, a U.S. development coach sat Bohonnon down and told him to quit aerials. He hadn’t adjusted well to a growth spurt in this high-flying, flipping and twisting sport and perhaps should return to moguls, which he had grown up doing.
“It was devastating,” Bohonnon said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I thought then and there my aerials career was over.”
Shortly thereafter, 1998 U.S. Olympic champion Eric Bergoust started coaching him and, Bohonnon said, saved his career.
Last season, Bohonnon earned an Olympic spot with his first World Cup podium finish on Jan. 14 in Val St. Come, Canada. The U.S. actually only sent one men’s aerialist to Sochi, due in part to the addition of ski halfpipe and slopestyle, limiting the amount of total freestyle skiers that could be sent to the Olympics.
That meant Dylan Ferguson, the top U.S. men’s aerialist in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 World Cup standings, but who did not make a podium that season, was left out. Ferguson subsequently retired.
“We should have had two [men’s Olympic] spots,” Bohonnon said. “I never doubted myself for a second for why I was there. I was the only guy with a podium that year. … I think this year kind of validates that whole situation, the whole process. I know a lot of people had doubts. I kind of showed up out of nowhere.”
McKinnon also competed in Val St. Come, where she dislocated an elbow to end any hope of joining her first-grade classmate Bohonnon in Sochi.
McKinnon, also 19, said she delayed a transport to a local hospital that day so she could watch the men’s competition. She saw Bohonnon finish second and earn his Olympic berth.
“I was leaving for the hospital, but Mac was taking his final jump,” she said. “I saw him get the second place and immediately left after that.”
This season, Bohonnon and McKinnon both benefited from Chinese stars missing the final two of seven World Cup competitions.
Qi Guangpu, who won the men’s World Championship on Jan. 15, and Xu Mengtao, the Sochi women’s silver medalist, swept the season’s first two World Cups in Beijing, Dec. 20-21.
China sent a B team to the final two World Cups in Moscow and Minsk the last two weekends.
Plus, both 2014 Olympic champions from Belarus, veterans Anton Kushnir and Alla Tsuper, took this season off.
Bohonnon and McKinnon wish they could have competed against the star Chinese and Belarusians all season but felt the absences didn’t diminish their feats.
Bohonnon said he proved himself to be competitive against them last season, finishing second in Val St. Come and fifth at the Olympics. He also beat Qi at a World Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Jan. 30.
“Not having them, it’s kind of easy to say it could’ve been different with them here, but I kind of validated it to them a month ago in Lake Placid,” he said.
McKinnon had three second-place finishes this season, plus a Worlds silver, but is still searching for her first World Cup victory.
“This is the generation I was part of in aerials,” McKinnon said of the athletes whom she did defeat. “It would’ve been awesome to compete against them [the Chinese and Belarusians] more, but I think I’m just really happy that I was able to compete with the athletes who are here.”
Bohonnon and McKinnon also benefited from coming up through the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Elite Aerial Development Program, which started in 2008.
The program’s first member, 2010 and 2014 Olympian Ashley Caldwell, roomed with McKinnon this entire season and won the final World Cup to secure second place in the standings.
Bohonnon joined the program after the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and then recruited McKinnon via Facebook Messenger.
“I knew Kylie was a good gymnast and a good skier; it was a no-brainer,” Bohonnon said (Chinese are so good at aerials because they often have a gymnastics background). “Here we are, four years later, both with crystal globes.”