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16-year-old Virginian advances to aerials finals [update]

Loudoun County native Ashley Caldwell -- at 16 the youngest American at these Games -- grabbed the 12th and final spot in the finals of women's freestyle aerials Saturday, and admitted afterward she was a little nervous. Maybe more than a little.

"It's day by day and I'm freaking out," Caldwell said. "My coach tells me to chill out, but i'm like 'Oh my God I'm at the Olympics.

"I get regular nervous not Olympic nervous."

Caldwell is part of an elite program designed to get young skiers in the pipeline for future Games, but she's progressed ahead of expectations. She was recently named rookie of the year on the World Cup circuit after three top 15 finishes in three events.

"Coping with the nervousness and the distraction, I'll learn from those and move forward," said Caldwell, who attended school in Ashburn and Hamilton, Va., before moving to Lake Placid, N.Y., to train. "I'm going to take this experience to Sochi and hopefully win out there. Hopefully in Sochi I can do my best jumps and win gold."

In aerials, skiers launch themselves off mini-ramps and perform twists and flips that are judged according to degree of difficulty. The highest degree of difficulty in yesterday's competition was a 4.050; the lowest was 2.050. Saturday's two qualifying scores are combined to determine the finalists, who will compete on Wednesday.

Caldwell skied first among the 23 competitors in both qualifying runs at Cypress Hill. She fell on the landing of her first jump, a back somersault with two full twists with a degree of difficulty of 3.150, one of the lowest in the first round, and scored a 79.66, putting her in 16th place.

On her second run, Caldwell again went first, executing a back somersault with a full twist, then a double full twist, a degree of difficulty of 3.525. She landed cleanly and earned a score of 82.68, for a combined 162.34. That put her in the finals by just 1.08 points.

Americans Emily Cook and Lacy Schnoor also advanced. Cook finished fifth and Schnoor sixth in qualifying. The leader after qualifying was Alla Tsuper of Belarus with 195.76 points.

By Tracee Hamilton  |  February 20, 2010; 4:03 PM ET
Categories:  Freestyle Skiing , Vancouver 2010  
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