Aerialist Ashley Caldwell prepares for stomach-twisting finals

February 14

Ashley Caldwell, a Virginia native, reacts after her qualifying jump during the freestyle aerials. Caldwell had the best score in qualifying and was able to automatically advance to the finals. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Leslie Caldwell was against the railing, as close to the action as she could get, which provided her the best view of something she can barely watch.

Her daughter, Ashley Caldwell, is a two-time Olympic aerialist. When she hits the ramp, she goes spinning and flipping through the air – a whirlwind on skis.

“Oh, my God. I kind of get a little nauseous,” Leslie explained. “Very nauseous. Sometimes I don’t even look. Tell me if she lands, and then I’ll watch. It’s fun watching when I know she’s landed. But it’s hard. It’s difficult as a mom to watch. Really is.”

There wasn’t much to get sick over in Friday’s qualification round. Caldwell, an Ashburn native who now lives and trains in Park City, Utah, posted the highest score in the field and will be the last competitor to hit the ramp in the finals, which begin at 9:30 p.m. in Sochi (12:30 p.m. in Washington).

The finals here consists of three jumps and the field shrinks after each jump. There will be 12 aerialists in the first round of the finals. The top eight get to jump again. And then only four will contend for a medal. Aerialists cannot repeat a jump in the finals round, so there’s some strategy involved. Most aren’t pulling out their biggest tricks early.

Caldwell is expected to begin the finals with a trick called a back lay-tuck-full, which is a triple back somersault in which the first flip is laid out, the second tucked and the third with a full twist.

At some point in the finals – either the second or third jump – she’ll pull out the full-full-full, which is a triple somersault that includes a twist on each flip. She already nailed one in the qualifying round. It’s a trick she hadn’t even attempted the trick until earlier this week.

Her parents learned about her latest progression in a slightly unusual way.

“I’m looking at Facebook when we were in Houston,” Caldwell’s mother said, “and I’m like, ‘Oh, by the way, look at what your daughter just did.’”

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Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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