Andrey Kulagin

Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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Justin Schoenefeld gets U.S.’ first men’s aerials World Cup win in 4 years

Justin Schoenefeld
U.S. Ski & Snowboard
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Justin Schoenefeld ended a four-year U.S. men’s aerials drought with his first World Cup win Saturday in Belarus.

Schoenfeld, 21, hit a double full-full-full in the super final to beat a field that included world champion Maxim Burov of Russia. Burov was fourth, one spot behind another American, Chris Lillis. Full results are here.

“I’m pretty speechless right now,” Schoenefeld said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “I’m just shocked. It just all came so quick, all of a sudden the two finals were over, and I was on top of the podium. I probably landed two of my training jumps yesterday, but I managed to land all of my comp jumps down to my feet.”

Schoenefeld’s best previous World Cup finish was fourth, in Belarus last season.

Lillis earned the U.S.’ last World Cup men’s aerials victory on Feb. 20, 2016, also in Belarus. The four-year gap between wins marked the longest for the U.S. men since aerials was added as an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Schoenefeld also became the first American of either gender to win a World Cup aerials event in two years, since Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018. That gap was the longest for the U.S. since 2005.

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Anton Kushnir, Olympic aerials champion, retires to coach

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Anton Kushnir, the 2014 Olympic aerials champion for Belarus, retired and has started coaching Kazakhstan’s team.

Kushnir, 34, extended Belarus’ streak to five straight Olympics with a men’s aerials medal when he took gold in Sochi with a back double full-full double full.

Four years earlier, Kushnir went to his second Olympics in Vancouver as the World Cup overall champion and favorite and failed to make the 12-man final. Countryman Aleksei Grishin went on to win that title and recently put his gold medal up for sale.

Kushnir completed his Olympic career with a 13th-place finish in PyeongChang, where Belarus failed to earn a medal for the first time since the event’s debut at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games. Ukrainian Oleksandr Abramenko took gold.

Kushnir was born in Ukraine and grew up a soccer player before switching to aerials after his father read about it in a book. He missed time between the 2010 and 2014 Olympics for leg surgeries and between 2014 and 2018 for knee and back injuries.

Belarus built its program into one of the world’s best in aerials, buoyed by a one-of-a-kind indoor water-ramp facility that allowed for year-round training.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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