Mike Rossi spends most of his time upside down, with his head in the clouds–literally. He’s a freestyle aerialist on the U.S. Ski Team who contorts his body into spins and flips after launching stories upon stories into the air off ski ramps.
While he landed his most recent jump on Friday night, his mind is still soaring.
That’s because the soon-to-be 19-year-old stood on the podium at Deer Valley, Utah on Feb. 1, after taking third place in the fourth World Cup Tour competition of the 2013 season. He’s the first American to medal in the tour.
When Rossi was asked to represent the United States on the World Cup Tour, he was honored and excited just to take part in the experience.
But the Long Valley native wasn’t going to squander the chance to be among the world’s best, either.
“It’s still kind of a dream,” Rossi said this week. “It’s still setting in.”
In the first three competitions of the tour, which took place in China, Quebec, and Lake Placid, New York, Rossi admits he could have jumped better, but was still grateful for the experience.
A 14th place finish in China, followed by a one-spot-out-of-the-finals 13th place finish in Quebec helped Rossi gain confidence. In Lake Placid, the teen landed a full-double-full-full jump to help him grab 9th place and a spot in the finals.
“Being in the finals–it was sweet,” Rossi said. “I was feeling better and I knew I could work on improving those jumps (in Deer Valley).”
After Lake Placid, Rossi and his father hopped in the car and drove cross-country for two days to get to Utah. Due to competing and practicing in New York, then being car-bound for two days, Rossi was sore, to say the least.
Rossi skipped the first day of training in Deer Valley, and only landed one of five of his triple jumps in practice prior to the competition.
“I wasn’t feeling great about it,” he said. “I spoke to my brother the night before (the competition) and he got my mind off of jumping. It was good to clear my head.”
The timing was perfect, since Rossi was about to embark on the biggest day of his young career.
Deer Valley’s competition was different than the previous three, as qualifiers would escalate in steps to the finals. Essentially, Rossi said, an aerialist would need to nail four jumps to make it to the podium.
As part of the top-12 Rossi landed his first attempt at a lay double-full-full, putting him in the top 8–his best placing yet.
“I was pumped to even get eighth place,” Rossi said. “Just being that high up in the standings was great.”
On his next jump, Rossi landed a full-double-full-full, which put him in the final four with skiers from China, Belarus and Canada. He was stunned by the finish, despite still having another shot at the podium.
“It was… Oh My Gosh–so insane,” he said. “My heart was beating so fast. I was talking to myself on the ski lift up the hill and trying to calm myself down. I was thinking ‘Whatever happens, you still got fourth place.’ I was just trying to visualize my jump and started to zone out and breathe deeply.”
The jump, Rossi said, was kind of a blur. He took an extra step back before descending down the hill, knowing glory could be had on the other side of the jump.
“I wanted it to be great or fall really hard,” Rossi said, laughing.
When he stuck the landing, the aerialist knew he accomplished what was necessary–completing four consecutive jumps.
There was a major obstacle keeping Rossi from fourth to third place, however. It was China’s aerialist, ranked number one in the world.
“The Chinese never fall,” Rossi said of the athletes in the event. “But this time, when he landed, his back touched the ground.”
Rossi said he could hear his mother and aunt scream with elation from the crowd, and he knew he was destined for a medal.
“You never want anyone to fall. You want to beat them at their best. But this… this was too big to fathom,” Rossi said.
A third place finish awaited “Jersey” Mike, a name he was tagged with early on in his Lake Placid training days.
On top of the medal achievement, Rossi climbed to second place among U.S. Ski Team males in the category, and he’s now ranked 11th overall in the world. Next up on the World Cup Tour is Socchi, Russia, where skiers will test the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The new rankings and top finish has taught Rossi plenty of experience.
“I know I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing and lay down consistently good jumps,” Rossi said. “This has been a great experience where I’m learning to calm myself down. It’s crazy–now I’m really known in the sport.”
Make that really known around the world, Jersey Mike.