Jaelin Kauf, a 21-year-old American freestyle skier, is making her first appearance in the Winter Olympics at PyeongChang.
Kauf’s speciality is moguls.
“It’s so huge to be able to accomplish a goal as big as the Olympics. It’s honestly a dream come true and I’m so happy I can start to focus now on making the best of it,” she told the Teton Valley News in December.
She was flying high entering the Olympics.
“I feel wonderful. My confidence is definitely up there. It feels really good,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune in mid-January.
Kauf started well, finishing in the top 10 during the first mogul run. Her time automatically advanced her into the finals.
Here’s what you need to know about her:
1. Kauf Grew Up in Wyoming & Is the Daughter of 2 Professional Skiers
Jaelin Kauf was born and raised in the small northwest Wyoming town of Alta, in the Teton Valley, but she attended high school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she she trained as part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. She has since moved to Park City, Utah, to train with the U.S. Ski Team.
Both of Kauf’s parents, Scott and Patti Sherman-Kauf, were professional skiers. Scott was a five-time World Pro Mogul Tour champion and Patti was a two-time champion. Patti also competed in the Winter X Games and won three medals as a ski cross racer.
“I don’t think my parents actually really cared if I was a mogul skier,” Kauf told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Of course now they love it that I am because they can really connect with the sport and know it so well. But they were always so encouraging, pushing me to do whatever I wanted, but to put everything into it.”
Kauf told NBC Sports she remembers standing on the podium with her mother at the X Games, “I really didn’t know anything else besides skiing.”
Scott Kauf told the newspaper, “I’m so impressed with Jaelin. She’s just getting started. She’s not new to this by any means, but with her abilities, she’s got a bright future.”
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Her brother, 22-year-old Skyler Kauf, also helped her on her path to the Olympics. He was also a competitive skier and later played football at Ithaca College in New York.
“I grew up copying his every move,” Kauf told NBC. “I actually never really liked moguls when I was young, but he loved them so much and I wanted to ski with him. I eventually gave in and learned to love them as well.”
She told Buckrail, a Wyoming news site, “He’s the biggest fan of me. I mean, he’s my big brother and it’s always been the two of us together. He’s been a huge part of this journey and my life. He helped to raise me into who I am and he is the reason I started mogul skiing. He still pushes and motivates me everyday and every time I stand in the gate.”
She said she would chase her brother down the mountain as a kid.
“It never mattered if you were a racer, big mountain or freestyle skier, we all skied together and we all skied everything,” Kauf told the news site. “I grew up with no fear, no limits and believing that nothing would hold me back from achieving my goals.”
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Skyler Kauf told the Jackson Hole News & Guide, “Our parents were our biggest role models in a lot of ways. We didn’t necessarily look up to professional athletes like Peyton Manning or Jeremy Bloom or anything like that. We looked up to Scott and Patti Kauf.”
2. She Is the U.S. Team’s Best Chance at Winning a Medal in Moguls
The 5-foot-4 skier is Team USA’s best hope of winning a medal in moguls, according to NBC. “Kauf’s speed has been setting her apart from the competition. At each of the first three stops of the 2017/18 World Cup season, she posted the fastest run of the super final,” NBC said in its Olympic preview.
Kauf is filling the shoes of Hannah Kearney, who was the top American moguls skier at the 2014 Olympics, but has since retired. Kearney won the bronze medal at the 2014 Olympics in moguls and the gold medal in the same event in 2010.
“Hannah was an incredible athlete and an incredible competitor,” Kauf told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Definitely that is something to strive for. It’s big shoes to fill, but I think it’s kind of fun to push for that.”
Kauf is joined on the team by Morgan Schild, Keaton McCargo and Tess Johnson.
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“My biggest rivals are Keaton [McCargo] and Morgan [Schild], and it is very friendly. I think they are my biggest rivals because they are my closest friends on the team and are constantly pushing each other,” she told NBC Sports.
McCargo and Schild have also advanced to the finals, while Johnson will need to improve her score in the second moguls run to be one of the other 10 to advance to the medal round.
3. Kauf Is in the Midst of a Breakout Season, Holding the World Cup Points Lead in Moguls & Finishing on the Podium During 3 of Her Last 4 Events
Kauf is in the midst of a breakout season. She holds the World Cup points lead in moguls and finished on the podium in three of her last four events before the Olympics, according to NBC Sports. She won the bronze medal in the junior world championships in 2015 and then joined the World Cup circuit in 2016, winning the Rookie of the Year honors. Her first victory came in 2017 in Tazawako, in the non-Olympic discipline of dual moguls.
Second place finishes in the moguls in Thaiwoo, China, and in Utah earned her a spot in the Olympics earlier this year.
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“Going into today, I knew I could be on the podium again with my run,” Kauf told U.S. Ski and Snowboard after qualifying with a second place finish in Thaiwoo. “I just repeated in my head, ‘ski your run,’ and it settled my nerves a little. It’s absolutely incredible to take home two podiums. I’m so happy to go home for a little break and come back in January still wearing the yellow bib.”
“Jaelin introduced herself to the world this week,” U.S. Ski Team head moguls coach Matt Gnoza told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “It’s great to see all the work she put in during the prep period pay off. She proved she’s one of the fastest mogul skiers and, with this week’s performance, she has proven that she can dominate in both singles and duals.”
She will be wearing the No. 1 bib in the Olympics.
“I’m so happy with that,” she told Steamboat Today. “A lot of people have asked, ‘Do you feel everyone’s gunning for you? Do you feel a ton of pressure?’ No, not really. It means I’m the No. 1, and I know I can be.”
4. When She’s Not Skiing, Kauf Says She Enjoys Other Outdoor Activities, Like Biking, Hiking, Wakeboarding & Surfing & Plans to Study Architecture
Kauf told NBC Sports that she enjoys taking part in other outdoor activities when she’s not skiing, including biking, hiking, surfing, wakeboarding and water skiing. “I enjoy biking because it can be very technical and I think translates a lot to skiing. It can get my adrenaline pumping,” she said.
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Her Instagram feed shows her taking part in several of those outdoor adventures around the world.
Kauf deferred a scholarship from the University of Montana, where she plans to study architecture, to pursue her dream of competing in the 2018 Olympics, according to TeamUSA.org.
5. She Travels Everywhere With a Stuffed Curious George Monkey Named George Jr.
Kauf travels everywhere with a stuffed Curious George named George Jr., she told Buckrail. She planned to bring George Jr. along with her to South Korea.
“Of course, he comes everywhere with me,” Kauf told the Wyoming news site. “He’ll probably even walk the opening ceremonies with me. I just need to get him a mini USA jacket.”
Kauf also keeps a wish bead and a lucky coin given to her by her mother with her when she competes, she told the news site.
“I do a warmup and stretching before I go out on the hill. Before my competition run, I do a little warmup at the top of the course, including some leg swings and squats,” she told NBC. “I do some visualization in my head and practice my jumps. When I am one out of the start gate, I put on my competition song.”
She said before every race in PyeongChang she will be listening to Kanye West’s “Amazing” to pump herself up.
Kauf told Steamboat Today that being at the Olympic Village has made it a different experience than the previous events she has been a part of.
“It’s a bigger buildup than we’re used to, and it’s slowly kicking in as more people get into the athlete village, more people show up at the bottom of the course,” Kauf told Steamboat Today. “It’s really cool.”
She said she isn’t nervous.
“We’ll see when I’m at the top of the course and I look down at these giant stands,” she told the newspaper, “but right now, I’m feeling fine.”