Mac Bohonnon was in the eighth grade when he left home to pursue his Olympic dream, one that became a reality Monday when, as the lone American, he competed in the men's aerials at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The little-known Olympian who competes in a little-publicized event didn't win a medal, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the 18-year-old on a day declared to be Mac Bohonnon Day in his hometown of Madison, Connecticut.
Bohonnon came oh-so-close to reaching the four-man "Super Final" and having a chance for a medal, missing by less than 1.5 points and finishing fifth overall in his first Olympics.
Not bad for someone who had already started looking beyond Sochi months ago.
"If you had told me in October that I would be at the Olympics I would have had a hard time believing you," he told USSA News Bureau after the event. "And then if you told me I would get fifth I definitely wouldn’t have believed you."
His story is a bit unbelievable, from leaving home at such an early age to how he wound up qualifying for the Sochi Olympics.
In January, he was at training home in Park City, Utah, when he received a phone call instructing him to get on the next plane to Val Saint-Come, Quebec, Canada. A teammate was injured and Bohonnon was the first alternate in the FIS World Cup event. It would be his eighth World Cup competition.
Tired and with little training time, Bohonnon not only made the finals but finished second for his first World Cup podium.
"That is 100 percent what got me to the Olympics," he told the Hartford Courant last month.
Soon after, Bohonnon failed to reach the finals at a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association freestyle Olympic qualifier and finished 13th, and later was named World Cup Rookie of the Year by the International Ski Federation.
"That was a pretty awesome honor to get," he told the Courant. "I thought that was capping the season off for me. I didn't have my hopes set high.
"It was absolutely a goal [to go to Sochi], but I didn't think it was going to be a reality."
But since he was the only American to reach the podium in aerial ski all season, Bohonnon did qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team, the lone male in aerials to do so. The USSA Team Academy resident found out he officially made the team in a phone call while attempting to write a research paper on Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" in his AP honors English class.
"I couldn't retain any focus after I hung up," he told the Courant.
How unlikely was the news?
"The Olympics were not even on his radar," his mother, Libby Bohonnon, told the Courant. "He entered the year on the C team and his goal was to get starts in the domestic World Cups. That's all he was eligible for."
However, the Sochi Olympics were definitely on his mind when he left home and school at the age of 13 and headed for the Olympic Training Center at Lake Placid, New York, participating as part of the U.S. Ski Team's Development Program.
"It was a pretty big commitment," Bohonnon told the Associated Press in February 2012.
"Initially, it was definitely tough leaving school, leaving my friends, leaving my family, but I knew that it was something that I absolutely wanted to do. It was an easy decision for me."
That decision paid off this week in Sochi, even if the result came with little fanfare or limelight.
"I was able to prove to myself that on the Olympic stage, with the most pressure, I can stay in my routine and not get too worked up," he told USSA News Bureau. "I’ve trained for this for six years and it’s an unbelievable feeling to see it pay off. Especially since the field here is insanely competitive.
"Training and going to school at the USSA Team Academy has helped me get the extra edge I needed to get me where I am today. To have everything I need to succeed at my fingertips makes all the difference to me as an athlete."
Might gold be within his grasp when the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, rolls around? Surely that’ll be his next Olympic goal.
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