With Hannah Kearney retired, there’s an opening for a new leader of the U.S. women’s moguls team. Jaelin Kauf may be that skier.
The 21-year-old from Wyoming notched her first World Cup moguls win in Thaiwoo, China, on Thursday, moving halfway to automatic qualification for her first Olympics.
Kauf continued a recent rise. She was FIS Rookie of the Year in moguls in 2015-16, then recorded her first World Cup win (in the non-Olympic event of dual moguls) last season.
She was also the top American at a February World Cup event at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in fifth place, plus took dual moguls bronze at the March world championships.
Kauf’s parents were both pro tour moguls champions. They never competed in the Olympics, but both later took up ski cross. Her mom made an X Games podium in 2002.
Kauf jostled with Morgan Schild and Keaton McCargo for top U.S. female moguls skier last season, but now she’s in the driver’s seat for one of three automatic Olympic berths through two of seven selection events.
A skier must make two podiums among the events to be eligible for automatic selection, and Kauf’s win is the only podium so far.
The U.S. women’s moguls team could end up with four total athletes in PyeongChang.
Troy Murphy took third in the men’s event Thursday to become the first U.S. man to make a podium in Olympic qualifying.
Kearney was part of the last three Olympic teams but retired in March 2015 after amassing two Olympic medals, three world titles and a record-tying 46 World Cup wins.
The PyeongChang favorites start with Australian Britt Cox, who won seven of 11 World Cup moguls and dual moguls events last season, plus the world title.
Cox was the youngest competitor at the 2010 Olympics in any sport at age 15, then finished fifth in Sochi. She won the season-opening World Cup event on Dec. 9 but was 25th on Thursday, her worst result in nearly seven years.
Sochi Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada made six World Cup podiums last season and was third at worlds.
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