Mikael Kingsbury is surrounded by Olympians, but still in a league of his own
Canadian moguls phenom enters 2018 Games with 48 World Cup victories — and 1 Olympic silver
By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports
Mikael Kingsbury belongs to an exclusive club of athletes who make headlines when they fail to annihilate the competition.
As such, the temptation exists to gloss over the six-time World Cup overall champion's performance Friday in men's moguls skiing qualifying action at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Sure, he finished first (yawn). And sure, he crushed the field by scoring 86.07 points — a full two points ahead of second-place finisher Aleksandr Smyshliaev, an Olympic athlete from Russia,
But domination is never a given at the Olympics, even when we're talking about an athlete widely known as the Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky of freestyle skiing.
Fair or not, the world expects Kingsbury to win gold. Fair or not, he expects himself to win gold. And whether it's fair or not, anything less than an Olympic title will go down as a crushing disappointment for the 25-year-old legend of his sport.
Click the video below to see what Kingsbury has to say about having 'a big target' pained on his back
Especially after Kingsbury finished a surprise second behind fellow Canadian Alex Bilodeau at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"I've won a lot of World Cups, and I've won the world championships," Kingsbury told reporters Friday at the bottom of the bumps and jumps at Phoenix Snow Park. "I've won a silver medal at the Olympics. I don't have anything to lose here."
That last part is debatable, but…
"I have to ski like everyone else and I love what I do," Kingsbury said. "So I do it and have fun."
Fun aside, this clearly a business trip for Kingsbury as he goes in search of the one title that has eluded him thus far. He tapped his ski poles together Friday just past the finish line as if he was mentally crossing off a crucial item on the to-do list.
Up next: the finals on Monday.
"I'm not thinking about the gold," said Kingsbury, of Deux-Montagnes, Que. "I know it's at the back of my head sometimes when I go to bed, but there are so many steps to go through before winning the gold medal.
"If I don't win, for sure I'll be a bit disappointed. If I do, I will be the happiest man in the world."
At age 10, Kingsbury printed off a colour picture of the Olympic rings that he found on the internet. On it, he scrawled: "Je vais gagner" and taped the image on the ceiling above his bed.
He still stares at that picture before he falls to sleep whenever he is staying at his childhood home with his parents. And he is known to drift off in the wee hours of the morning after a binge session of watching video of his competitors.
In Sochi, the video evidence shows Kingsbury as the man to beat with one run remaining. Bilodeau — his fiercest competitor — knocked him out of first place.
Looking back, Kingsbury figures he let the pressure get to him — something he swears won't happen this time around.
"You know, your first Olympic Games is always stressful," said Kingsbury, who touched down in Pyeongchang with 48 World Cup victories — more than any other freestyle skier in history. "This is my second and it's so different. It's good to have a bit of experience.
"I replay how nervous I was so I can learn from that. Sochi was an amazing experience and I wouldn't change anything. I won a medal in my first Olympics, a young kid."
By his own admission, Kingsbury is obsessed with his craft — and he believes that single-mindedness is one of the main reasons for his success.
"Mikael is an exceptional athlete," Australian mogul skier Matt Graham told a news conference earlier this week. "He's set the standard really high, and it's just kind of felt like it's a bit of a cat and mouse race, you know. We're all just trying to chase him down."
Click on the video player below to learn five little-known facts about Kingsbury
One of the "mice" chasing Kingsbury is his close pal and teammate Philippe Marquis.
Somehow, Marquis finished eighth on Friday to advance directly to Monday's final in spite of skiing with no anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"Oh my God, I think I was more nervous watching him than I actually was for my run," Kingsbury said. "Phil is one of the toughest men I know and his attitude this week has been amazing."
With a confident, but not cocky, attitude, Kingsbury knows gold will belong to him — provided he skis up to his own level and not down to the level of his competition.
"I'm not trying to beat anyone here," Kingsbury said. "I just need to do what I've been doing for the past couple of events.
"I did a good job today."
Such is life when you're in a league of your own.