PARK CITY, Utah — Tuesday marks the start of a great adventure for two local skiers, but the journey began long before that.
Winter Vinecki and Kaila Kuhn will represent the United States in freestyle aerial skiing at the 2022 Winter Olympics – an event that has been described as a mix of ski jumping and gymnastics. The two northern Michigan natives will depart for Beijing from Park City, Utah next week for the Games which run from February 4-20.
“Just getting there right now is a huge accomplishment in itself, especially with everything going on,” Vinecki said. “One of our biggest stressors and concerns right now is just getting to China, staying healthy, and staying away from COVID.”
Vinecki, 23, grew up in Gaylord and moved to Park City to freestyle aged 13 after meeting American freestyle skier Emily Cook in 2011. She was hoping to try to qualify for the 2018 games in PyeongChang, Korea South, before a knee injury ended his season.
Kuhn, 18, lived in Boyne City before virtually attending high school and training with the US Elite Aerial Development Program in Lake Placid, New York. She took off with the sport after meeting Vinecki through a mutual friend.
“I first met her five or six years ago and saw her as one of the coolest people,” Kuhn said. “She was on the national team and that’s something I really wanted. Training really hard and competing in our first Olympics together is really cool, especially since we’re both from small town Michigan.
The timing couldn’t have been better for Vinecki, who is coming off his best season yet at the FIS World Cup. She finished second on the 2020-21 tour with three podiums – first place in Moscow, Russia, then second and third place the following two weekends.
Vinecki met the Olympic qualification criteria last December after a string of strong results in Ruka, Finland. She helped the United States take second place in Team Aerials – a new event for the 2022 games featuring teams of two men and one woman.
Vinecki said the addition of the event is interesting because it gives aerial skiers a chance to win multiple medals, just like swimmers. The rosters for this have yet to be announced.
“Starting this season, I have another variation of a triple twist double backflip that I’ve been working on all summer and hope to do for the Olympics here,” Vinecki said. “We will have a high degree of difficulty before the games. I really focused on staying healthy, training well and being really confident in my tricks.
Kuhn also stepped onto the podium last year with a third-place finish at a World Cup event in Park City, which also served as an Olympic trial.
The Olympic qualification process is complicated, Kuhn said, but it helped her grow as a person and taught her to trust the process and her training.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team officially announced the nominations of Kuhn and Vinecki to the Olympic aerials team Friday night.
“Obviously it’s a dream come true,” Kuhn said. “It doesn’t really feel real to me because I’ve worked for the Olympics for so long. It’s really rewarding.
Due to the pandemic, however, their families will not be able to travel with them.
The IOC announced on Monday that only selected spectators will be allowed to watch the Games in person. He had previously announced that no fans from outside mainland China would be allowed in the events, and tickets were not offered to the general public.
“My family made as many sacrifices as I did to bring me here. It’s hard that they can’t come support me and be there with me,” Vinecki said.
Instead, Vinecki says her Gaylord family plans to go to a watch party in Utah. Boyne City High School students were working to send postcards of support for Kuhn, according to a Facebook post from the school.
Qualifying rounds for the women’s aerials event at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou are set for 7:00 p.m. China Standard Time (6:00 a.m. Traverse City) on February 13. The finals will take place the following day.
Events will be broadcast on nbcolympics.com