American freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell was over the moon when she won gold in mixed team aerials in the event’s Olympic debut on Feb. 10.
But despite the celebration at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou with fellow Team USA members Christopher Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld, Caldwell says her experience at the 2022 Winter Games has been far “more difficult than any past Olympics,” causing her additional “stress, anxiety and difficulty.”
Caldwell, 28, is a four-time Olympian who believes Beijing has stretched athletes to their mental breaking point. She cited the combination of daily COVID-19 testing, the chance of testing positive and not being able to compete, and not having friends and family in the stands for support as reasons that have made this Olympic experience a bigger “sacrifice” than usual.
How has Caldwell been dealing with the adversity? By not letting it bring her down even when results don’t meet her expectations.
There was no better example of that than when Caldwell placed fourth in the women’s aerials, narrowly missing a spot on the podium on Feb. 14. Caldwell embraced two of her competitors as they celebrated wins: American skier and bronze medalist Megan Nick and Chinese gold medalist Xu Mengtao.
“[This Olympics] has been a very difficult experience and every single person out here works incredibly hard and at the end of the day, everyone deserves it,” Caldwell told NBC Sports. “I was just so proud of the people that were able to perform when it counted and I think they should always be celebrated.”
Caldwell wants to see more support at the Winter Olympics between competitors in all sports. She believes camaraderie with the competition sends a positive message to younger generations.
Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
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“I think support, especially as female athletes in a high profile event, is important to showcase to young men and women,” Caldwell said. “We're all out there trying to do our best and pushing ourselves extremely hard, but we also respect each other at a very high level, probably more than anybody else in the entire world.”
The dawn of a new era
Caldwell and her mixed aerials teammates, Christopher Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld, earned a score of 338.34 to capture gold in the event’s Olympic debut.
Caldwell says adding events like mixed aerials is important for the Olympics to “gain publicity and encourage others to participate.”
An Olympic couple
Caldwell and Schoenefeld, 23, have been dating for three years and train together year-round. The Olympic couple met after the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and quickly hit it off.
“He knows exactly what I'm going through and I know what he's going through,” Caldwell said. “We can share a lot of that emotion and so it's nice to be able to share this journey with someone who intimately knows what this feels like and how difficult it is.”
The next mountain
Reflecting on her career, Caldwell is unsure how much time she has left on the Olympic stage. She has her eyes on a different career path, which she has already been working toward for a few years.
Caldwell has a master’s degree in real estate development from the University of Utah and is currently getting a second master’s in legal studies. She wants to use the skills high-level athletics have taught her to make a “positive impact” in the real estate field.
“As I've gotten older, I also think more about the lasting impact that I might have on the sport,” Caldwell said. “I have fewer days ahead of me than I do behind me so I'm just grateful for every day that I'm able to come out and do jumps.”