JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Jaelin Kauf’s world champion, mogul-skiing parents don’t take much credit for their daughter’s success in the sport they once dominated. Those kudos go to the Olympian’s older brother.
“If it weren’t for Skyler, she wouldn’t be where she’s at now,” said Scott Kauf, Jaelin’s father. “He’s been a great big brother. She just aspired to follow him around, to chase him around and do what he was doing.”
The 21-year-old Jaelin, of the small northwest Wyoming community of Alta, spent much of her childhood on the slopes of Grand Targhee following Skyler, 22, wherever he went. When they weren’t skiing, Jaelin could still be found tagging along with big brother. No matter the activity.
“Pretty much anything I was doing, she wanted to do,” Skyler said. “I forced her to play football with me in the hallways. We were 8 years old playing one-on-one football, Oklahoma drill. She was always so much smaller than me. Props to her for being a trooper.”
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Brother and sister grew up with little pressure to compete in their parents’ sport, despite the success mom and dad had. Scott was a five-time World Pro Mogul Tour champion, and Patti Kauf, Jaelin’s mother, won the tour twice.
The Kaufs had their kids competing in everything from alpine to freeride to skiercross when they were young. But both said they didn’t care what their kids competed in as long as they were passionate about it.
Despite their parents giving them the freedom to choose their own sport, Skyler said it wasn’t a tough choice which sport he and Jaelin would concentrate on. They were going to take after their folks.
“Our parents were our biggest role models in a lot of ways,” he told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “We didn’t necessarily look up to professional athletes like Peyton Manning or Jeremy Bloom or anything like that. We looked up to Scott and Patti Kauf.”
With help from Skyler, Jaelin landed on moguls. She made the right choice.
The current world No. 1 in the sport will enter her Olympic moguls event on Sunday with two wins and four podiums under her belt in seven 2017-18 World Cup competitions.
She has the genes and the background to be the best. But her brother and those who have known her the longest say it’s her drive that has her on top of the moguls world.
“Everything in our household had some underlying competition,” Skyler said. “I remember when Jaelin was running in the yard, going for the winning touchdown. Then I pancaked her. I look back and I’m like, ‘Wow what a horrible thing to do for an older brother.’
“I think she’s taken the good aspects of that upbringing and she’s been able to harness it and use it in her own career.”
Bobby Aldighieri coached Jaelin after she moved from Alta to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to hone her moguls skiing before her freshman year of high school. He was the moguls coach for Team Canada in the 2002 and 2006 games and competed in an Olympics of his own in 1992. He knows what Kauf is about to experience, and he said the way she welcomes the big stage is why he can see her winning gold in her first Olympics.
“She certainly has the ability to win,” he said. “She could be seven-eighths of the skier she is and still have a shot at winning because she’s a great competitor.”
Before she was a gold medal contender, Kauf started the 2017-18 season in December hoping to make the U.S. Olympic team. Every one of her events this season has taken on added importance. And her family and friends have nervously been there every step of the way. Even when she was competing halfway around the world.
“We’re up all night,” Patti said. “We try to go to bed but don’t. You go to sleep but you’re really not sleeping. You’re just lying there and worrying.
“When she won her first event in Japan last year at 2 o’clock in the morning we were just screaming,” she said. “Our neighbors probably think we’re drunk and crazy.”
Patti said she’s most nervous when watching the untelevised qualifying results of each event roll in on her computer screen. She expects those emotions to pale in comparison to what she’ll feel when Jaelin is in the starting gate in Pyeongchang.
“I will not have it together at all,” she said. “To have her not only go to the Olympics but to actually have a chance to be on top of the podium — oh, my gosh. If she has a good run she can win the gold medal. I will probably be lying on the ground in a little ball, barely breathing.”
None of the Kaufs or those who know Jaelin expected her to be where she is now. Her rise to the top has come suddenly. But she hasn’t caught any of them off guard. They all feel she’s capable of anything, even a gold medal. And so far she’s done nothing to make her brother or anyone else think otherwise.
“I told Jaelin, ‘I could talk to you in 10 years and you could have Olympic medals and world titles,'” Skyler said. “‘I’d be the proudest person in the world. I’d probably cry at every single success you had.’
“But if she talked to me in 10 years and said she had three gold medals and five world championships, would I be surprised? Probably not. She can do whatever she wants.”
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com