Olympics: U.S. Olympic freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell in Vancouver

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Ashley Caldwell
U.S. Olympic freestyle skiier
Thursday, February 18, 2010; 1:30 PM

U.S. Olympic freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell, a 16-year-old Virginia and the youngest U.S. Olympian in Vancouver, was online Thurs. Feb. 18 to take your questions about being a teenager at the Olympics, handling the pressure of top-flight competition in her teens, the scene from Vancouver and her hopes for the rest of the Winter Olympics.

A transcript follows.

Full Coverage: 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

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Harrisburg, Pa.: How old were you when you began skiing and at what age did you begin practicing for competitions? It is amazing how much you have accomplished. How did you do it?

Ashley Caldwell: Hey! I was three when I started skiing, just for fun with my family. I started aerials when I was 13 and started competing when I was 14. I guess I did it like anyone accomplishes anything, by having fun and working hard!

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Baltimore: How is the snow? We had some here, if you want some more.

Ashley Caldwell: I would love some more! The conditions are rough! The snow just isn't holding like it normally would. Every time we land the landing hill gets a huge hole in it. Because of this we have to fix the hill every time. This means we only get one jump every half hour, when we usually get one every 15 minutes. So we're getting less jumps which isn't ideal. The jumps are great though and the hill workers are doing their best!

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Vienna, Va.: The lead in to this says you grew up in Virgnia, is that correct? I've lived here my entire life and the skiing around here is pretty weak. How and where did you learn to ski?

Also, are the conditions there as bad as they are making them look on TV? Seems like every other shot it is raining and the snow is all slush - hmmm kinda like Liberty in March come to think of it.

Ashley Caldwell: Yes, I did grow up in Loudoun County. I grew up skiing at Whitetail and Seven Springs. My dad taught me, he's a big skier and would take me out any time he got the chance. As for weather its only rained once on the hill and it was before training so we've been pretty lucky. The snow is the weirdest texture I've ever seen! It makes it difficult to decide what kind of wax to use. They have been putting dry ice in and on the jump! It makes it interesting right before you jump to see a guy spraying your jump with a fire extinguisher!

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Ashley, Maybe you can answer this ... In moguls, if speed is 25 percent of the equation/score, why do you not wear skin-tight suits like the skiers? Wouldn't this allow you go to faster and free your body up (range of motion-wise) for the jumps? Is it more about the fashion aspect of things?

Ashley Caldwell: Speed is 25 percent a mogul skier's score. Because mogul skier's aren't going as fast as racers the suit does not have as big as an affect. So more importantly they want their turns to look good. There turns are 50 percent of their score so the suits make their turns look better, which is more important over speed. Does that make sense?

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Washington, D.C.: What's the hardest trick you've ever pulled off? Was it intimidating to try it for the first time?

Ashley Caldwell: The biggest trick I've done on water was a Lay-tuck-tuck. This is a triple flip where you are straight on the first flip and tucked on the second two. The biggest trick on snow is a full-double full. This is two flips with one twist on the first flip and two twists on the second flip. Neither of these were intimidating the first time. I put a lot of trust into my coach and when he tells me to go do a trick I know that he believes that I can do the trick, not only complete it but do it nice the first time. Because of this trust I don't have to worry about completing the trick I have to worry about doing it totally awesome the first time!

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Long-term plans: Do you have any? I know 16 is kind of early for that kind of thing ...

How long do you plan to keep skiing?

Ashley Caldwell: Right now I plan on skiing for two or maybe three more Olympics. I want to go to school. I kinda have a love of learning, some people call me a nerd because of it, and that doesn't bother me one bit. So I want to go to school for something like physics or math. I love both of those subjects. I want to travel a lot, and I want to have a family, but mainly I want to have tons of fun!

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Baltimore: What is it like to focus on a sport solely at such a young age? Do you feel like you're missing out on anything by not being in conventional school?

Ashley Caldwell: Nope, I feel like I'm gaining something that most people don't even know exists. Do I miss going to prom, yes, but would I trade going to prom for going to a World Cup or training a whole summer in Lake Placid.

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Washington, D.C.: How often do you get back to the D.C. area now that you live where you train?

Ashley Caldwell: I haven't been back to the D.C. area in over two years. I'm coming back in May to meet the President, and I think I might stay longer and go see some of my old friends!

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Arlington, Va.: Do you train by flipping into or over one of those foam pits that snowboarders and skateboarders use? If so, what is that like? Those things look wild!

Ashley Caldwell: Nope, we train into a pool during the summer. We have a wood jump built covered in plastic toothbrush material which we get wet. We use our regular skis and jump into the pool. There are a couple facilities in the U.S., and the main ones are in Lake Placid New York and Park City Utah.

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Los Angeles: Hi Ashley. Have you been able to meet a lot of athletes from other sports and other countries while you have been at the Olympics? Good luck!

Ashley Caldwell: Yup! Tons of cool athletes my latest ones are Shaun White, Apollo Ohno, and J.R. Celski. I met Lindsay Vonn a couple days ago and have seen a bunch of cool athletes walking around the village!

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Woodbridge, Va.: Ashley - Are you the youngest competitor at the Games? Have you hung out with any of the other teen competitors.

Ashley Caldwell: I'm the youngest U.S. competitor. I'm not sure yet as for the whole games. I haven't really been hanging out with many of the other young guys. We are all pretty busy so its hard. I hung out with some of the curlers, who are the oldest in the games!

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Dumfries, Va.: Do you think the lack of snow is caused by alien spacecraft? I heard there were a bunch of UFOs out that way right before the Olympics started. Your thoughts?

Ashley Caldwell: Yes, I have been seeing some suspicious alien activity in the area. They have been trying to cover it up but everybody knows the truth!

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Coolest thing you've seen so far: What is it? And at what point did it really sink in that you're at the Olympics?

Ashley Caldwell: Coolest thing so far, Opening ceremonies. It was so awesome, what no one can see is that when all the athletes are waiting we are chanting U-S-A soooo loud! Its just an amazing atmosphere!

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Re: Snow conditionls: Putting dry ice in the snow to keep it frozen? That's lame. Do the judges make any changes to take into account the conditions? I guess for the subjective stuff it might be hard, but for some of the timed events I would think the conditions could slow one guy down or speed another up.

Ashley Caldwell: Nope, judges don't take conditions into account at all. Athletes and coaches need to do what ever they need to do to show the judges their best jumps. Everyone is under the same snow and weather conditions and you have to make the best of it!

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Potomac, Md.: So how weird are Canadians, really? Do they really look like Terrance and Philip on South Park? And how much time had you spent around them before the Olympics? Are you a fan of Canada?

Ashley Caldwell: Canadians are awesome. I've never watched South Park but they are pretty cool people and there athletes are very good and hardworking. I think the answer you are looking for is that they are about as weird as Americans, and in some cases that could be kinda weird. I mean, I think I'm pretty weird!

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Pittsburgh: Do you do your own waxing, or are there team experts who handle the task? I heard it mentioned on a cross country skiing race broadcast yesterday that the Norwegian xc team has 22 waxers!

Ashley Caldwell: Because in aerials speeds just need to be constant, not fast, we don't need special waxers. So the athletes just do it themselves.

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Hopes for competition?: Hey Ashley!

What are you hopes for your upcoming competition? Do you think the "different" conditions you were talking about will help or hurt your chances?

Ashley Caldwell: Everyone's under the same conditions for me the inexperience could be helpful because I don't really know the difference between good jumps and bad ones. For the older athletes they know the difference and know how to react to them. So will it help me? I don't think so. Will it harm me? Definitely not.

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Dumfries, Va.: I knew it! All my friends think I'm crazy, but I knew there was aliens out there! Why else would we get 40" of snow in DC when Vancover hasn't got squat! Its one big government conspiracy.

Ashley Caldwell: Government conspiracy I don't think so, a weird phenomenon possibly? Who knows! Its the Olympics anythings possible! Okay guys I'm out of here. I have training in an hour! Thanks for the questions and hope I answered them well! Keep cheering everyone on! We really appreciate it!

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