Olympic moment at hand for No. 1 Jaelin Kauf | SteamboatToday.com

Olympic moment at hand for No. 1 Jaelin Kauf

BOKWANG PHOENIX PARK — Perhaps no family in the world knows freestyle moguls skiing quite like that of Jaelin Kauf, but Wednesday they stood together at the bottom of the Olympic moguls run at Bokwang Phoenix Park, South Korea in awe.

Scott Kauf spent much of his career competing as an Olympic gold medal-caliber moguls skier, five times winning the World Pro Moguls tour. His status as a professional and Olympic restrictions at the time prevented him from ever competing at the Olympics. He’d never been to one in the years since and as the 2018 competitors trained, he looked high at the brilliantly lit course on a blisteringly cold South Korean night and soaked in it.

It wasn't like any World Cup and certainly wasn't like the World Ski Championships in Spain last spring where Jaelin Kauf won a bronze medal.

It's the Olympics.

"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,” Jaelin Kauf said. "It's really cool."

Nerves? Not quite.

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"We'll see when I'm at the top of the course and I look down at these giant stands," she said, "but right now, I'm feeling fine."

Jaelin Kauf, who lived and trained in Steamboat Springs through high school and until she made the U.S. Ski Team, will enter the Olympic competition as one of the favorites and as the leader of a deep, talented U.S. squad that has medal aspirations top to bottom.

They trained Wednesday under the light and Thursday morning. Friday morning — Thursday night in Steamboat — they'll help kick off as one of the first events of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The women's moguls competition will begin with a qualifying round at what's 6 p.m. Thursday night in Steamboat Springs.

The format will differ significantly from a typical World Cup with a skier potentially able to take as many as five runs.

In the qualification round, the entire field of 30 will start with the top-10 scoring athletes advancing automatically to finals. The rest of the skiers will take a second run to fill the finals field to 20.

The finals will come two days later, Sunday night, and again feature two rounds. The top 12 from the first finals round will advance. The top six will advance from a second finals round and, finally, medalists will be decided from the six.

Kauf's at the top of every list to be there in the end thanks to a brilliant start to the 2017-18 season.

She's not failed to make finals (the top 16 skiers, usually) in any of the seven World Cups so far this season. She made the super finals (top six, typically) in five of those seven, then won two events and was second twice.

It's amounted to the top spot on the World Cup and, in turn, to the No. 1 bib at the Olympics.

"I'm so happy with that," she said of the that No. 1 bib. "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."

Kauf, 21 years old, has plenty of competition for the gold medal, and it will start on her own team.

They're all Olympic first-timers, filling in the shoes of skiers like Olympic gold and bronze medalist Hannah Kearney, but they have deep resumes already.

Mogan Schild, a New York athlete who's trained in Vail, is ranked No. 7 in the World Cup and has podiumed twice this season.

She'll likely throw some of the toughest tricks in the entire event and has two World Cup wins in her career.

Keaton McCargo, a 22-year-old from Telluride, is No. 8 on the World Cup and a staple in that circuit's top 10 every event.

Tess Johnson, a 17-year-old from Vail, is 10th in the World Cup and has finished as high as fourth in a World Cup this season.

The field is also stacked internationally with skiers from Canada, France, Australia and Kazakhstan all very real threats for gold.

Canada's Andi Naude is another skier with premium tricks and she's sitting second on the World Cup, having landed on three podiums this season.

Perrine Laffont of France, third in the World Cup, has won one World Cup and finished second in two this season.

Britteny Cox of Australia, fourth in the World Cup, is another favorite and entered the season as the unquestionable front-runner. She won seven of 11 World Cup events a year ago, the individual moguls World Championships event and two World Cups this season.

Kazakhstan's Yulia Galysheva has three World Cup podiums this season including a win and Justine Dufour-LaPointe, from Canada, is a 2015 World Champion, a bronze medalist from the 2017 World Championships, winner of the most recent World Cup event and, oh yeah, the reigning Olympic champion.

It’s a tough crowd, but Kauf enters wearing the No. 1 jersey, and she's perfectly fine with that.

"I'm shooting as much for everyone else as they are for me," Kauf said.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.