The only certainty in aerials is gravity. One by one, skiers launch themselves off an icy ramp that soars nearly straight up to the clouds. A few seconds later, they plop down to earth. The thrill revolves around how many acrobatic stunts they can pull off while aloft, and the tension revolves around what position they're in when they smack the ground. A two-footed landing with knees slightly bent and torso slightly forward is ideal. Anything else is a recipe for disaster.
The field of aerialists likely to advance to the women's final includes two skiers who are well acquainted with the sport's hazards: American Emily Cook, who shredded ligaments and shattered bones in both feet when she landed short on a training jump two weeks before the 2002 Olympics; and Australia's Alisa Camplin, the defending Olympic champion, who underwent radical reconstructive knee surgery last fall. Cook needed two surgeries and three years to recover from her injuries and, at 26, will make her long-awaited Olympic debut in Turin. Camplin, 31, who tore her right anterior cruciate ligament twice in one year, returned to jumping roughly two months after surgery.
Both will have sentiment on their side when they take flight tonight, as the aerials final is conducted under the lights, in the village of Sauze d'Oulx. But they may well be eclipsed by a pair of young Chinese skiers who have surged up the World Cup rankings since 2002: Li Nina, 23, who won the World Cup title in 2004-05, and Guo Xinxin, 22, who finished third in the World Cup rankings that year. Twelve aerialists will advance to the final, where they will take two jumps each. Medals are awarded according to the combined scores of the two final jumps.