With a rash of retirements clearing the way for rookies, and two Olympic gold medallists still with the program, it's a brave new world for the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team. The president of the freestyle association, Peter Judge, said it was a rebuilding year in many ways and as a result the team wasn't too worried about defending the overall Nations Cup title Canada has won six years in a row.
Still, given the team's results at Ruka, Finland last weekend it's not out of the question either.
The moguls team earned three medals, with rookie Mikael Kingsbury, 18, placing second overall, in between Patrick Deneen of the U.S. and Guibaut Colas of France.
Big things are expected from Kingsbury, who dominated the Nor-Am Cup last season and was voted the FIS Rookie of the Year for moguls. And so far he's delivering.
"Everything went really well on the run and I didn't make any mistakes today," he said. "I feel fast and strong in the moguls. I'm so happy - you've never seen a smile this big on my face. I've been waiting to win a World Cup medal since I was eight years old watching the World Cup at Tremblant."
Cedric Rochon placed fifth, while Olympic champion Alex Bilodeau placed seventh. Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau was 10th, while Whistler's Eddie Hicks - in his first start with the national team - was a solid 13th. That's five athletes in the top-15.
On the women's side there was a double podium. Olympic champion Hannah Kearney of the U.S. took the gold medal, just ahead of 2006 Olympic champion and 2010 silver medallist Jennifer Heil. Kirsti Richards, who lives part-time in Pemberton, took the bronze medal.
"It's always great to be at the first World Cup of the season and get back into the rhythm. I had a breakthrough on my skis at a training camp earlier in the season and I could feel it today, although I wasn't skiing at my full limit," said Heil. "Now it's time to charge it up for next week's contest in France."
Richards, who crashed during her Olympic run, was excited to be back in the hunt for medals.
"It's been an interesting time for me. There have been a lot of emotions from the Games, and I've had to face them and overcome them by trying to simplify things - feeling wind on my face, snow under my skis, and by being patient on my jumps."
Finishing fifth for Canada was 16-year-old Justine Dufou-Lapointe, the youngest of three sisters competing with the Canadian team this season. It was her first-ever World Cup appearance.
Audrey Robichaud was sixth, Maxime Dufour-Lapointe eighth, and Whistler's Chelsea Henitiuk - the women's Nor-Am champion from last season - 15th. That gave Canada six spots in the top 15.
Henitiuk was more than happy with the result.
"I'm very excited about my result, it's my personal best at a World Cup," she said. "It's my first year with the team, so 15th place is awesome. I'm excited to go into Meribel (France) and build on that. And everyone on the Canadian team did amazing, and it was such a great atmosphere. Overall, I'm really happy."
The moguls team is back in action this weekend in Meribel, France.
Canada's halfpipe team also had a good weekend in Colorado at a U.S. Grand Prix event.
The sport is considered a shoo-in for inclusion at the 2014 Olympics Winter Games, although the IOC won't make a decision until spring of 2011.
Rosalind Groenewoud, who lives in Squamish, defeated X Games champion Jen Hudak for the gold medal in the women's contest. Jessica Cumming placed third. Dania Assaly was fifth and Keltie Hensen 13th.
On the men's side, Vernon's Justin Dorey and Alberta's Mike Riddle were first and second, edging out American start Simon Dumont. Rob Heule was 14th for Canada while Whistler's Simon D'Artois, 18, placed 20th out of 63 competitors.
"Today was as good as it could get," said Dorey. "Riddle and I were one, two in quallies and we told each other we had to be one-two in finals. I had a good feeling up at the top of the pipe, landed my first trick well and then really got into my groove."
Dorey and Riddle were propped up by landing double-corked 1260 spins in the pipe, while Groenewoud was the only female competitor with a switch 540.
"It feels amazing to win today, it's great to start the season off with a bang and get my tricks under me," said Groenewoud.
The halfpipe team competes this weekend at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado.
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