Top-ranked Kushnir fails to make aerials finals 

Owning the podium is out of the question for Canada. Owning the aerials hill, though, is a distinct possibility.

On a night when the defending Olympic champion and this year's top jumper failed to make it through qualifying, Canadians Steve Omischl, Warren Shouldice and Kyle Nissen all advanced to give their country a glimmer of hope in what has been a dispiriting Olympics so far.

"It's unfortunate that we're a little bit behind in the medal count," Shouldice said after qualifying sixth Monday night. "But this is the time for me to be a little bit selfish and worry about me and not what the other athletes are doing. Right now, I'm just trying to do my job, and so far I've done a pretty good job at it."

America's Ryan St. Onge also advanced, as did Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, which means his patented, quintuple-twisting "Hurricane" jump should be on the schedule when the top 12 finishers return Thursday.

Not returning: Defending Olympic champion Han Xiaopeng of China and this year's top jumper, four-time 2009-10 winner Anton Kushnir of Belarus.

Both fell on their second jumps to drop out of the top 12. They offered a stark reminder of the unpredictability of the business of catapulting down a ramp, twisting and flipping 50 feet in the air and trying for a stable landing on the hard ground below.

"I was very surprised because Anton has been very steady with his performance, and his jump was very beautiful," said Jia Zongyang of China, who won qualifying with a score of 242.52.

Jia is ranked third this season but is 18 years old with only six World Cup events under his belt.

All of which sets things up as a free-for-all come Thursday, with Canada very much in the mix.

Good news for the hosts on a day in which Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge had to concede his country, with nine medals to America's table-leading 24, won't fulfill its goal of winning the medal count at the Olympics, a goal many years and millions of dollars in the making.

Canada has three decent chances to improve its standing in men's aerials.

Omischl, a four-time World Cup champion, was among the dominant aerials skiers from 2006-09 but a mild concussion set his training back a bit. He landed two solid jumps on a frosty, clear night in Cypress to score 233.88 and finish eighth.

"In the final, the strategy is, take it a step up and go for it," he said. "I'm not just trying to land a jump. I'm trying to land a beautiful jump. These guys are the best in the world for a reason. To be competitive with them, I need to take a step up."

Nissen and Shouldice finished 5-6 at the 2006 Olympics and have been regulars in the top 10 for much of the past four years.

"We try to peak at the Olympics. We've done a great job in semifinals, and hopefully we can step up and do a little better and get on the podium in finals," Shouldice said.

St. Onge could say the same. He has had a series of bad finishes this season and came into the Olympics ranked 28th — hardly befitting of the 2009 world champion. He kept his skis arrow straight, his hands tucked into his body and hit both his landings perfectly on Monday, however, to finish second in qualifying.

"I don't believe I've had a bad season so far," St. Onge said. "I've made the best jumps of my life, ever. They all happened in training. I really have underperformed in contests, but they were very small mistakes."

Peterson was good, too.

Like everyone else on a qualifying night, he came in hoping to do just enough to advance but without having to show everything. In his case, "everything" is quite a lot. It's the "Hurricane," which is five twists packed inside of three flips. If he lands it, he should have the gold medal hanging around his neck.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge," said Peterson, who has been having a hard time with conditions this week in training. "I don't have to (land it), but I want to; that's just my personality. Go big or go home, baby."

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