Canada's moguls king still has 1 hill left to conquer
Mikael Kingsbury has done it all, except win Olympic gold
By Callum Ng, CBC Sports
Mikael Kingsbury wins so often, he's running out of things to say.
The prodigious 25-year-old moguls champion has 48 World Cup victories, more than any other freestyle skier in history. He rattled off 13 in a row, spanning nearly a full calendar year, before his streak was snapped in mid-January at Mont Tremblant in Quebec.
"Yeah, I don't know where to start anymore," Kingsbury said 10 days before that, breathless and thrilled after career win No. 47 at Utah's Deer Valley, which broke the all-time record.
It was another accolade for his staggering collection that includes two world titles, an Olympic silver medal and six Crystal Globes as freestyle skiing's overall World Cup season champion.
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That January night in Utah, the Deux-Montagnes, Que., native eventually found the words to explain his success.
"It seems like… I'm able to be clutch at the right moment."
That's exactly what Kingsbury will have to do in Pyeongchang, South Korea to capture the one major prize that has eluded him — an Olympic gold medal.
There are many ways to describe Kingsbury's dominance, but the numbers alone are astounding.
His 48 World Cup gold medals in 87 starts means he wins more than half the events he enters. And when he doesn't win, he usually comes close, reaching the podium 80 per cent of the time. By comparison, the second-ranked skier in the World Cup moguls standings this season, Dmitriy Reiherd of Kazakhstan, has won a medal at a rate of 16 per cent in his career.
For eight seasons now, Kingsbury has been at or near the top of his sport, evolving from a precocious teenager who was a forerunner at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, to a silver medallist four years later in Sochi, behind teammate Alex Bilodeau.
Kingsbury remembers Sochi, his first Olympic final.
"I was pretty nervous, I felt the pressure," he says. "I felt the intimidation of the Olympic Games."
He was last to ski, immediately following a bumpy performance by teammate Marc-Antoine Gagnon. Before that came a near flawless run by Bilodeau, the defending Olympic champion.
"I got into the gate and I was like, 'Oh my god, this is it,'" says Kingsbury, who took a few uncomfortable-looking breaths at the top of the hill.
"I just tried a bit too hard."
Bilodeau emphatically repeated as Olympic champion. Kingsbury took the silver medal by edging Russia's Alexandr Smyshlyaev.
Today, Kingsbury says he is content with how he responded to the pressure in Sochi and learned from that moment. He did not, however, win moguls gold at either of the world championships held since then, settling for silver in 2015 and bronze in 2017 (he won the 2015 world title in dual moguls, which is not an Olympic event).
Kingsbury says he has a clear direction for Pyeongchang.
"When I get in the start gate, what I want to change is just being able to get a more narrow focus," he says. "And just think not on the medal, and not on the other [skiers], just think of what Mik needs to do, one thing at a time."
Kingsbury also has a more flexible approach to his run, and what he decides to do will hinge on the conditions at Phoenix Snow Park on Feb. 12.
A moguls course includes two jumps spaced by mounds of snow (the moguls) and it's extremely steep.
Back in February 2017 at a World Cup in Japan, Kingsbury and his roommate, Philippe Marquis of Quebec City, pioneered a strategy that the moguls world has been following since.
Kingsbury's usual plan A is to execute a back double full on the top jump, and a Cork 1080 on the bottom.
"The conditions were pretty hard and it was raining the second day of training, so it got cancelled," says Kingsbury. "So we went back home and we knew the course would be a little bit weird the next day."
So he and Marquis flipped the script and decided they would both do a Cork 1080 on the top air, something they had never done, and a Cork 720 on the bottom.
They finished first and second, with Kingsbury taking another gold.
"That was pretty cool, to be the first two guys who decided to change our runs for a different run that ended up making us finishing one and two," Kingsbury says.
Despite suffering a torn ACL at Deer Valley, Marquis is still going to Pyeongchang and hopes to compete.
But even if he does, it's overwhelmingly clear that Kingsbury stands alone as the gold-medal favourite in South Korea.
And if everything goes to his plan, he'll arrive at the bottom of the hill with nothing left to be said.