Mikael Kingsbury, 19, is not your average sophomore athlete. In his rookie season with the national mogul team he was on the podium eight times, twice to accept gold medals. In Ruka, Finland for the start of the World Cup season on Saturday he started off with a convincing win, almost four full points ahead of Sho Kashima of Japan. Anthony Benna of France was third.
"It feels pretty crazy to wear the yellow bib," he said. "It feels like a dream come true. It's not just being on the World Cup podium, it's wearing the bib of the number one on the World Cup. I've always dreamed of that and now it happened. I'm not going to give it up without a fight."
The World Cup field is a little different this year with many of the top athletes — including Canada's Alex Bilodeau and Kristi Richards — sitting out for most of the season to work on skills and practice new tricks. World Cup champion Guibault Colas of France also missed the first event. But Kingsbury has already proven that he can beat the best in the world, and his score was high enough to win no matter who was in the field.
And Kingsbury did it by pulling back his tricks, replacing his double backflip with a single flip and his corked 1080 with a corked 720 — the safe choice with the high winds on course.
It was also the first time that a new format had been used. Instead of two runs — one qualifier and one competition run — the top four skiers after the second run are given a winner-takes-all third run to determine the overall winner.
"Because I was first in the first final heat, I got to ski last in the super final," said Kinsbury. "And, from hearing the scores of the other three guys, I knew they had all messed up a little so I didn't have to push too hard. But I still went full speed on my last run, because for me that's the easiest way to go."
Kingsbury wasn't the only Canadian to earn points. Philippe Marquis placed a solid fifth after missing last season with an injury. Marc-Antoine Gagnon was 11th and Cedric Rochon 15th. Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau finished out of the finals in 23rd. Whistler's Eddie Hicks and Quebec's Simon Pouliot-Cavanagh both skied off course.
The women's mogul team at Ruka was young with veteran Kristi Richards sitting out this event, Jennifer Heil retiring after last season and Audrey Robichaud rehabilitating a back injury.
Chloe Dufour-Lapointe led the team in seventh place, followed by sister Maxime Dufour-Lapointe in ninth. Whistler's Chelsea Henitiuk was 13th, less than a point back of placing in the top eight. Beatrice Bilodeau was 20th, and Justine Defour-Lapointe 31st.
Hannah Kearney of the U.S. continued to dominate to take the win, followed by Eliza Outtrim of the U.S. and Nicola Sudova of Czech Republic.
"I think I skied well today," said Dufour-Lapointe. "When I touched my first mogul on my first run I was a little anxious, but after I made it to the finals the ice was broken and I felt a lot better."
The next mogul competition is a dual event at Meribel, France on Dec. 20.
This past weekend also marked the start of the first ski halfpipe season since the International Olympic Committee gave the event Olympic status back in April. The event took place at Copper Mountain, Colorado with Canada and the U.S. maxing out their quota spots.
Calgary's Rosalind Groenewoud started off the season with a silver medal, finishing between Brita Sigourney of the U.S. and Virginie Faivre of Switzerland.
Groenewoud was sitting first after the qualifiers, but made a few mistakes in her second run.
"My first hit is definitely the biggest hit for the women's field," she said, crediting her time in the gym for boosting her leg strength. "I just have to work on keeping my amplitude consistent for the rest of my hits, it's definitely all about commitment."
Edmonton's Keltie Hansen placed fifth, Squamish's Sarah Burke was seventh and Dara Howell of Ontario placed 10th to give Canada four spots in the top 10 overall. Megan Gunning was 18th, Shannon Gunning 21st, Jackie Atkinson 29th and Dania Assaly 32nd.
The Americans swept the men's podium, with Wing Tai Barrymore taking gold, Torin Yater-Wallace silver and Duncan Adams bronze. Only Mike Riddle made the final for Canada, but he bobbled on his first run of the finals and crashed on the second to finish 10th. Matt Margetts was 21st.
Justin Dorey and Noah Bowman are currently on the injured list and did not compete.
Also in the event was Whistler's Simon D'Artois, who placed 23rd, Hunter Visser was 28th, Kris Atkinson 40th, Lukas Bowman 52nd, Quinn Waddell 55th, Collin Jefferies 63rd, Logan Dobson 66th and Garett Northey 67th.
This weekend the halfpipe team will be back in action at the Breckenridge stop of the Dew Tour.