Kauf has imagined her run hundreds of times, hoping for perfection at the Winter Games
January 29, 2018
For moguls racers, it's all about laying down the perfect run, but to set the perfect run, first they have to see it.
Which is why Jaelin Kauf spends a lot of her days thinking about her run — imagining how each turn and jump will look and feel. At 21 years old, she is a good pick for a gold medal in the Pyeongchang Olympics and the winner of this year's World Cup circuit in moguls.
When asked how many hours she spends visualizing, she said "most of them."
"Surrounding a competition, I wake up in the morning and I'm just visualizing my run," she said. "During warm-up, I'm visualizing my run. I go out there and, while I'm lapping on the chair, I go over the run in my head, then I go to sleep visualizing it. So it seems like it kind of takes up the whole day. Especially when on a comp day, you're doing three runs that are 30 seconds each, which is crazy to think about, that you're doing a minute and a half of skiing (during a competition) but I'm constantly thinking about it."
She starts at the top, watching herself in slow motion drop into her run, then follows herself down the slope through each turn.
"You want to visualize the perfect run, so every time you see yourself and you're starting to catch an edge or doing something wrong in your visualization, you have to stop, go back to the beginning and start over," Kauf said.
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By imagining it, Kauf has been able to find her best run just when she needs it. She met objective Olympic qualifications by jumping from 14th in the qualifying round to the top of the super finals round at a World Cup in China.
"I was not expecting it at all," Kauf said. "The first day in China, I was stressing out all morning that I wasn't going to make qualifications. I was sitting on the edge of my seat waiting until the last girl went because I was so afraid of being bumped out."
At a World Cup at Deer Valley Resort, she cut it even closer – entering the finals round in last place, and taking second. The next day she took first.
"It's so stressful, but being able to pull it all together and get those podiums was so crazy," she said. "I think I almost killed my mom at Deer Valley she was so stressed."
That finish solidified her place on the U.S. Olympic Team and extended her position as the leader in World Cup points. She has kept her position through the World Cup in Tremblant, Canada — the final before the Olympics.
When she gets to South Korea, and if she lays down the run she has imagined, she will stand in the third gate, waving her arms to pump air into her lungs and psych herself up, then will drop into the first set of moguls, cleanly gliding into a high 360 off the first jump.
"She hits the throttle through the middle section," said Matt Gnoza, head moguls coach for U.S. Ski Team. "Then she comes into the bottom flip and hangs in the (backflip iron cross), and lets it float in the air a minute before putting it under her feet."
Because her run is extremely fast — perhaps a holdover developed through her expertise as a duals mogul racer — she can launch higher off her ramps, and draw out her jumps, which helps both her speed and jumping scores.
"Then she crosses the finish line and looks over the shoulder, because it's one of the fastest times on the course week in week out," Gnoza said.
All told, her three races will total just under one and a half minutes in Pyeongchang.
"(It's) crazy how much time and effort we put into 30 seconds, but there's a lot to lose or a lot to gain in those 30 seconds," she said.
When announcers call Kauf's name for her run at the Winter Games, all the visualization will be over. If she takes gold, it would be the realization of a dream she has envisioned hundreds of times.