Emily Cook sails through the air during a practice run for the freestyle… (Cameron Spencer / Getty…)
SOCHI, Russia — American Emily Cook finished her Olympic career and moved on to her continuing task — taking care of the next generation.
Cook spent a long time comforting an emotional Ashley Caldwell, the 20-year-old American who put down the highest score of the day in qualifying in women's aerials.
But the high was soon replaced by a gut-wrenching low when she faltered in the first round of finals and failed to advance.
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The 34-year-old Cook, who served as Caldwell's mentor, left the world stage having competed in three Olympics. Cook reached the second round of finals but did not make the third, the four-woman Super Final.
"The biggest emotion is definitely happiness," Cook said. "It's been an incredible career, so many ups and downs. Honestly, it's been no stone left unturned.
"This is definitely the last Olympics.… I am 34 years old. There's a whole lot more life to live."
Friday night belonged to the 30-something crowd of high fliers at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The model for sheer persistence turned out to be another 34-year-old, Alla Tsuper of Belarus, mother of a toddler.
Tsuper won the Super Final and the gold medal in her fifth appearance at the Olympics. Her first was in 1998 in Japan where she finished fifth — then she was competing for her native Ukraine — and until Friday, that had been her best finish.
"I returned to the sport to have one more chance to have a medal. That was a dream," said Tsuper, who had a daughter after the Vancouver Games and left the sport for two years. The cover photo of Tsuper's Facebook page has a picture of Tsuper holding her daughter at the beach.
Tsuper was the only one of the four to execute a clean landing in the Super Final. Xu Mengtao of China won silver and Lydia Lassila of Australia, the gold medalist in Vancouver, took the bronze. Li Nina of China, twice an Olympic silver medalist, finished fourth.
Cook was asked about the 30-ish competitors, and she motioned toward the group competing in the Super Final.
"Most of them are out there, I have no idea," Cook said. "There is a real answer to that. Yes, it's really hard on the body. That's my decision-maker. I would do this sport the rest of my life, if I could."
It was tough for Caldwell to look ahead after a roller-coaster outing. Her new trick — three flips, each flip with a twist (known as a full, full, full) — earned her the top score (101.25) in qualifying and she only just executed it this week in practice.
"It's pretty tough. There's no second chances in the finals rounds," said Caldwell. "You have to nail all three jumps and that's difficult in aerials.
"… Right now, I'm not super stoked. But I come out there every day and I'm happy to be jumping and healthy. That's what will come up, hopefully, after I'm done being sad."
Said Cook: "Ashley is amazing. She has an incredible career ahead of her. I have no concern about Ashley being incredibly successful."