Defending moguls gold medalist Hannah Kearney will lead a strong U.S. women's quartet in Sochi, but other freestyle skiing contingents saw their numbers reduced because of the new competitive landscape of this Winter Games.
Kearney, who upset 2006 champion Jennifer Heil of Canada in Vancouver four years ago with two great runs in wind and rain, has dominated the World Cup circuit since. She will be joined by Heidi Kloser, Heather McPhie and Eliza Outtrim.
Patrick Deneen and Bradley Wilson, both World Cup medalists this season, will compete in men's moguls. That's half the number the U.S. has sent to the past four editions of the Olympics. Only one male aerialist, 18-year-old Mac Bohonnon, will be entered in that discipline. Veterans Emily Cook and Ashley Caldwell will compete in a women's aerials field where the Chinese will be heavily favored.
The way U.S. ski team officials divided the pie between five different freestyle skiing events -- two of them, slopestyle and halfpipe skiing, are new to the Olympic program -- left aerialist Dylan Ferguson on the sidelines. Four years ago, he was named to the team but had to withdraw after an emergency appendectomy.
Bohonnon, who was named World Cup rookie of the year last week, confirmed his promise this season by placing second at a World Cup in Canada earlier this month. The 25-year-old Ferguson ranks ahead of Bohonnon in the aerials standings, but it will be the teenager who inherits the expectations of a program that has won medals in three of the past four Winter Games, starting with Eric Bergoust's gold in 1998.
All four U.S. male aerialists finished in the top 12 in Salt Lake City in 2002, where Joe Pack collected the silver medal. In 2010, Jeret "Speedy" Peterson landed his signature triple-flip, five-twist trick called the "Hurricane" and earned a silver medal.
Peterson, who battled lifelong depression, took his own life in July 2011. He mentored many of the younger athletes on the team, including Ferguson, who does a version of the "Hurricane" in competition as an homage to Peterson.
Cook, praised by freestyle program director Todd Schirman as a strong leader who plays "mother hen" to much of the team, was one of Peterson's closest friends. She works with the foundation established by his family that is devoted to suicide prevention and combatting the stigma of mental illness.