PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - There was a shock during qualifying for the final of the men’s aerials on Saturday night when defending Olympic champion Anton Kushnir of Belarus failed to qualify.
The top six men from the first round of qualifying progressed automatically to Sunday’s final, with the remaining athletes moving into a second qualifying round. The top six after the second round also progressed to the final.
However, after a first round score of 120.80 failed to seal qualification for the final, the pressure was on Kushnir to reach the final with the last jump of the second round.
Needing to beat the score of 121.72, set by Mischa Gasser of Switzerland, to qualify in the top six of the second round, the Sochi gold medalist fell just short, scoring 121.27 to miss out by 0.45 points.
Kushnir’s absence will be felt strongly in the final and as his result was read out, shock spread across the faces of his team mates, coaches and rivals.
The 33-year-old, competing in his fourth Olympics, was hoping to defend his title and continue Belarus’s dominance of the sport.
The country has had a man on the aerials podium at the last four Olympics, winning gold in both Vancouver and Sochi.
Now, the baton passes to Stanislau Hladchenko, who is the only Belarussian representative in the final, after world number four Maxim Gustik also failed to qualify.
American Jonathon Lillis top-scored with 127.44 and the world champion will be joined in Sunday’s final by Sochi silver medalist David Morris. The Australian needed a second jump but delivered to qualify in second place from round two.
It was a good night for the Chinese, who had three athletes progress as they look to get revenge for the result in the women’s final on Friday. Hanna Huskova of Belarus edged China’s Zhang Xin and Kong Fanyu into second and third respectively.
China are looking to win their first aerials gold for either gender since Han Xiaopeng in 2006.
World Cup leader and pre-Olympic favourite, Olympic Athlete from Russia Maxim Burov, was another high profile casualty from Saturday’s qualifying. His brother Ilia did reach the final, scoring 126.55, the joint third highest of the night.
His compatriot Pavel Krotov also qualified, as did Oliver Rochon of Canada and Ukraine’s Oleksandr Abramenko.
Switzerland’s Dimitri Isler joined his compatriot Gasser, the man who edged out Kushnir, in qualifying for the final.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant