STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - Bryon Wilson was one of the outsiders, not as concerned about earning a trip to Vancouver as simply finding a starting spot in any major moguls race outside the United States.
His outlook changed drastically in the span of about 48 hours earlier this month, however. An injury to a teammate and a few good runs down the moguls in Finland have placed him in prime position for an Olympic spot - and made him the man to beat at freestyle skiing's Olympic trials Wednesday.
"The men's moguls team is really strong and deep," Wilson said. "If I could seal that spot up next week, it would be a huge relief for the rest of the trip."
In fact, Wilson may have already sealed up the spot, after an injury to Landon Gardner during World Cup training in Suomu, Finland, brought him off the alternate's list and into the race, where he finished second on back-to-back days.
Podium finishes in World Cup events are a key criteria for making the Olympic freestyle team. But the only sure bet - and only way to seal it up before the team is officially named in late January - is by winning at trials.
Wilson entered the season on the U.S. Ski Team's "B" squad, meaning his World Cup starts were not guaranteed and he had to pay his own way to most of the events. The second-place finishes in Finland automatically bumped him to the "A" team, which means his travel expenses are covered, and he gets some meal money. He's also guaranteed starts for the next two years - a big burden off his back.
"A huge relief forever," he called it.
On the women's side, Hannah Kearney has established herself as the top American moguls skier. She finished third and first at those two World Cups in Suomu.
She came into the last Olympics as America's best freestyler, as well, but her Olympic journey ended almost as soon as it began. She caught an edge on the second turn out of the gate, landed awkwardly on her first jump and failed to qualify for finals - a bad start to what turned out to be a bad performance by the entire U.S. freestyle team in Italy: They brought 14 skiers ranked in the top 15 and came away with only a single bronze medal.
"That may be what people think of me, but I've done much more impressive things in the last four years than those Olympics," she said. "But it is in the back of your mind, because that's your biggest day. "
Spots are also up for grabs in aerials, where the skiers are making a brutal turnaround. They competed in China on Sunday and will be on the hill in Steamboat come Thursday.
Emily Cook, Jana Lindsey and Speedy Peterson were the top American finishers at the two events in Changchun, China, though none finished in the top three.
The China trip may have given the United States a good picture of what could be coming in Vancouver. Of the 12 medals given out over two men's and two women's events - 10 went to Chinese skiers.
In addition to some of the other big names of the sport, Frisco's Mikaela Matthews will compete in this weeks event, as well. The 17-year-old U.S. team rookie will be vying for a trip to Vancouver.
Olympic trials for Nordic Combined are also in Steamboat on Wednesday, with Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick both skiing in front of their hometown fans, and among the favorites to secure an Olympic spot.