ZHANGJIAKOU, China (AP) — Ashley Caldwell thinks of Christopher Lillis as family, and Justin Schoenefeld as something even more.
Together, they're Olympic gold medalists.
The trio of Americans won gold in the Olympics’ first mixed team aerials event Thursday, giving the United States its first medals in the freestyle skiing discipline since Jeret “Speedy” Peterson in 2010.
Caldwell was a precocious, breakout star when she made her Olympic debut as a 16-year-old at the 2010 Vancouver Games. The 2017 world champion is now in her fourth Olympics but had never finished higher than 10th.
The 28-year-old Caldwell and Schoenefeld have been dating for about three years, making her breakthrough to an Olympic podium all the sweeter.
“I’ve been in the hunt for a gold medal my entire career,” Caldwell said. “To do it with these guys is incredible. Chris has been like a brother to me forever, and Justin is the love of my life, so that really helps.”
It’s the first American medal in aerials since Peterson won silver at Vancouver. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot a year later.
The last Americans to win gold were Eric Bergoust and Nikki Stone in 1998.
Lillis’ back double full-full-double full was given the highest score of any trick in the finals, and the U.S. gold was assured when Schoenefeld followed with a clean back double full-full-full.
“This has been a three-year process for us, for me getting ready for this Olympic Games and being able to throw those quintuple twisting triples," Lillis said. "I was just happy to get the opportunity to throw one and to put it down.”
Two-time medalist Jia Zongyang cost China a chance at gold when he flipped forward on his landing, and the host country settled for silver. Canada won bronze.
The mixed team event made its debut at the Beijing Games. Each country gets three jumpers and can’t use more than two per gender. All six countries in the finals went with two men and one woman.
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