Alex Bilodeau and Kristi Richards will compete in World Cup moguls events this year, but announced recently that the tour is not their primary focus. This year they'll work on skills, practice more difficult jumps and prepare themselves for the next season's world championship and the Olympics the season after that.
"In the usual race calendar competitions are scheduled close together, which doesn't give us enough time to work on certain aspects of my technique," said Bilodeau. "We took inspiration from other athletes at the top of their sport, like Usain Bolt (sprinter) and Michael Phelps (swimmer), who use a similar approach. My team and I felt it was time to revisit the way we do things and we've opted for a reduced competition schedule, with priority on improving my technique and fitness. I want to be ready for the World Championships next year, and especially for the Sochi Olympics in 2014 where I intend to defend my title. I don't ski to come in second."
That doesn't mean that Bilodeau is forsaking competitions altogether. His coach confirmed that he would be attending some of the World Cup events that are close to home this year like Deer Valley in February. "Because the course," said coach Michel Hamelin, "the time of year and the atmosphere there will prepare him for the Olympics. For other races we'll decide in the short term so we can stay focused on our goal."
As well as training, Bilodeau committed to working with mental trainer Wayne Halliwell, and taking university courses on the side.
Richards, who hails from the Okanagan and lives in Pemberton, made her announcement this week. According to Kelley Korbin, a spokesperson for the team, Richards is following the lead of other elite athletes by taking a break from competition to train.
"She's gone through two Olympic cycles, so it was time to take a break and focus more on training and less on competition. For skiers in Whistler that means you'll probably get a chance to see Kristi on the hill a lot more this year, as she'll be staying closer to home," said Korbin.
The announcements will have an impact on the team, which has won eight out of nine Nations Cup titles — including the 2010-2011 season.
Mikael Kingsbury proved last year that he can ski as well as anyone in the world and should be a regular on the podium again this year, but Bilodeau's absence leaves a spot that any one of the six men on the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team's "B Group" could fill — including Whistler skier Eddie Hicks.
"It does open a few spots on the World Cup," confirmed Korbin. "We have 12 spots for every out of country event, and at the Canadian events we have 18 spots."
Korbin said the season has been split up into three sections, and Hicks has earned the right to represent Canada internationally in the first section. Following those events his status will be re-evaluated, and he will either stay with the team or bumped back to the B Group, which means competing at home World Cup events and North American Cup competitions.
"It's gauged continually through the season," said Korbin. "The only skiers that are guaranteed spots are on the A Group."
On the women's team, the A Group includes sisters Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe and Audrey Robichaud. With the loss of Richards, that leaves one spot for B Group skiers, which is comprised of Maxime Dufour-Lapointe and Whistler's Chelsea Henitiuk.