Monday, February 10, 2014

Breaking down Canada's moguls magic

By on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 6:24 PM

click to enlarge Mikael Kingsbury, left, and Alex Bilodeau celebrate their medal-winning performances in men's moguls on Monday. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
  • Photo courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee
  • Mikael Kingsbury, left, and Alex Bilodeau celebrate their medal-winning performances in men's moguls on Monday.

Canada has always had a rich history in moguls, but another chapter has been written in the first three days of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Justine and Chloé Dufour-Lapointe captivated Canadian fans with their one-two finish in women’s competition on Day 1, while Alex Bilodeau and Mikael Kingsbury secured the men’s gold and silver as expected, helping Canada to the top of the medal table at the end of Day 3.

No country has ever taken four of six moguls medals from an Olympic Games until now. Yet the amazing showing only showcases some of the incredible depth this Canadian moguls team has. Canada could have sent even more national team athletes with podium potential to Sochi if not for quota restrictions limiting the team to four skiers per gender.

One of those is Whistler’s Eddie Hicks, who battled injuries for nearly all of the Olympic qualifying period and cheered on his teammates from home. Hicks was hardly surprised to see Bilodeau and Kingsbury standing on the podium when asked for his analysis of the races in Sochi.

“The field’s been competing for third,” Hicks said of the duo’s dominance on the men’s World Cup circuit this year. “Those guys are pretty unbeatable when they ski their runs.”

Kingsbury, the reigning world champ, and Bilodeau, the 2010 Olympic champ, split the first six events of the World Cup season with three wins apiece. Monday’s six-man superfinal set up the head-to-head battle between the Canadians that everyone was anticipating. Ultimately, Bilodeau pulled out his best run when it counted most, while Kingsbury couldn’t ski as tidily on his final trip down the bumps.

“Alex skied a really strong run,” said Hicks. “I think I saw after on Twitter or in an interview on TV that he said, ‘I was going to be first or sixth.’ He really laid it down there.
click to enlarge Canadian moguls team member Eddie Hicks competes during last month's World Cup event in Calgary. The Whistler-based skier was impressed, but not surprised by his teammates' performances in Sochi. - PHOTO BY MIKE RIDEWOOD / CANADIAN FREESTYLE SKI ASSOCIATION
  • Photo by Mike Ridewood / Canadian Freestyle Ski Association
  • Canadian moguls team member Eddie Hicks competes during last month's World Cup event in Calgary. The Whistler-based skier was impressed, but not surprised by his teammates' performances in Sochi.

“Mik just had a couple little mistakes, which kind of opens the door and that’s the way it goes.”

There might be disappointment, but there shouldn’t be any shame for Kingsbury in finishing second to Bilodeau, who became the first athlete to ever repeat as gold medallist in an Olympic freestyle ski event. Hicks said he thinks his good friend Kingsbury will look on his silver medal fondly, not with a bad taste in his mouth.

“I think you could tell from his reaction he was obviously pretty disappointed to be in second, but I think you could tell even more from his reaction that he was pretty excited to win an Olympic medal, really happy to be there and be representing Canada,” said Hicks, who expects Kingsbury to be back contending for gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

With Marc-Antoine Gagnon giving Canada the top three qualifiers heading into the superfinal, thoughts naturally turned to the possibility of a podium sweep. Gagnon came up just short and placed fourth, but Hicks pointed out that Canada has now finished fourth in men’s moguls at three straight Olympics, another testament to the depth of the Canadian program.

Philippe Marquis also put in an inspiring performance when placing eighth on Monday. Marquis reached the podium at last year’s test event in Sochi but was initially left off the Olympic team, only earning a spot at the Games when halfpipe skier Megan Gunning had to pull out due to injury.

The 24-year-old got into a little bit of trouble on his run in the penultimate round Monday but recovered nicely for a respectable finish. Hicks said he thinks Marquis showed he deserved a place on the Olympic team from the very beginning with his performance at Rosa Khutor on Monday.

“His first finals run… was an unbelieveable run, one of the best of the day,” said Hicks.

U.S. skier Hannah Kearney went into the women’s competition as the defending gold medallist and the reigning world champion, but couldn’t ski cleanly after the top air, settling for bronze and paving the way to the top of the podium for the Dufour-Lapointes.

“Moguls at the Games, you just never know what’s going to happen,” said Hicks. “I did not think Hannah was going to make that mistake; it was very uncharacteristic of her. But we definitely knew that probably Chloé, or Justine, or both were going to be on the podium — especially Chloé, she’s been skiing so well this year. Her skiing technique is pretty impressive.”

The Canadian moguls team has now won gold at three consecutive Olympic Games — Jennifer Heil won the women’s event in 2006 to get that streak started. But the performances at these Games in Sochi have been a true affirmation of the Canadian team’s dominance in moguls skiing, on the biggest stage possible.

After celebrating this moment and sharing it with the whole country back home, the team will turn its attention back to the World Cup circuit, which resumes in Japan in March.

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