Canadian moguls great Mikaël Kingsbury expecting a battle for Olympic gold
Japan's Horishima expected to give Olympic champion tough fight in moguls
He's the most dominant athlete in the history of freestyle skiing and on Saturday Feb. 5, the king of the moguls, Mikaël Kingsbury, will have a chance to retain his throne.
It will be one of Canada's first chances at a medal at the Beijing Olympics and Kingsbury hopes he'll have the honour like he did in Pyeongchang four years ago.
With 101 World Cup podiums (71 wins) in 120 World Cup starts, six world championships and two Olympic medals, Kingsbury is unmatched in his sport, but there are rivals knocking on the door. More on that below.
Kingsbury's not the only returning champion. On the women's side, France's Perrine Laffont attempts to win back-to-back gold medals, after becoming the youngest Olympic freestyle champion at age 19 in 2018.
Who will challenge the reigning Olympic champions, and what will the path to the medals look like? We have the answers.
The competition consists of two qualification rounds and three final rounds stretched over two days of competition for the men (Feb. 3 and 5) and women (Feb. 3 and 6).
All 30 skiers complete the first run, ranked according to their scores. The top 10 skiers advance directly to the finals, while the remaining 20 ski a second qualification run with the top 10 athletes from that joining the final.
Final 1 consists of 20 skiers, the top 12 scores move on to Final 2. From there the top 6 skiers move on to Final 3, or the "Super Final," where the medals will be decided. Each round is elimination style with just one run per skier.
Seven judges score each run out of 100. Turns (skiing) are worth 60 per cent, while air and time are worth 20 per cent each. Scores in the high 70s are good, while scores in the 80s are excellent.
WATCH | Mikaël Kingsbury has an insatiable appetite for winning:
The contenders — men
Expect a battle for gold between Kingsbury and Japan's Ikuma Horishima.
Horishima has three World Cup victories this season — one less than Kingsbury (Kingsbury has two more victories in dual moguls, which isn't yet an Olympic discipline). Kingsbury holds a thin lead over Horishima in the World Cup standings heading into Beijing.
There is a lot of respect in this rivalry. Both athletes have the speed, the big tricks, but also smooth skiing, which accounts for 60 per cent of the overall score. The knock against Horishima in recent years is that he lacked consistency. Under the guidance of coach Janne Lahtela, the 2002 Olympic gold medallist, that's now in the past and he's definitely hungry after missing out on the podium altogether in 2018. He went into those Games as world champion and wound up finishing 11th.
After the most recent World Cups in Deer Valley in mid-January, Kingsbury and Horishima split the results (Kingsbury won the first event and Horishima the second), the Canadian indicated that he's saving his best for Beijing. After settling for silver he admitted he performed "without even using all my proverbial weapons."
While those two are the favourites for the top two steps on the podium, there are other skiers who've shown they can get in the mix for the medals. Among them are Japan's Daichi Hara, the 2018 Olympic bronze medallist, Sweden's Walter Wallberg, who sits third in the World Cup standings, and world championship silver medallist Ben Cavet of France, who has beaten Kingsbury in head-to-head competition.
WATCH | Kingsbury grabs moguls gold for 100th career World Cup podium:
Australia's Matt Graham, the reigning Olympic silver medallist, is a bit of an unknown after breaking his collarbone in mid-December at the Idre Fjall World Cup in Sweden. He had surgery four days later to bolt everything together with a plate and 13 screws. He only resumed training in mid-January, but if healthy, he's always a threat.
The other Canadian in the field is Laurent Dumais. He missed the opening two World Cups due to a back injury, but Dumais has shown he can make the finals when healthy. He was sixth at last year's world championships and has two World Cup podiums from 2020.
The contenders — women
If you go by the World Cup results this season, the Olympic gold medal will be a fight between three women and any one of Laffont, Anri Kawamura and Jakara Anthony could take it.
Laffont hadn't lost in three years coming into this season. That was the level of her dominance. However, she uncharacteristically missed the podium twice this year and that may have less to do with her skiing and more about the emergence of other competitors.
Kawamura is chief among them. The 17-year-old Japanese star won three World Cups this season. She's got the whole package — direct, crisp skiing, big air and fast times. She holds the World Cup lead by a fraction over Laffont and Anthony.
Not far behind is the Australian, Anthony. A taller skier at five-foot-six, she's got extra drive after finishing fourth at both the 2018 Olympics and 2021 world championships. She missed the podium just once this season when she was fifth.
Outside of the top three, there are strong challengers from the Americans. On any given day, the likes of Olivia Giaccio, Kai Owens, Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar could challenge for the podium. Of note, Giaccio is the only woman in the world to land a 1080 in competition, which she did at Mont-Tremblant this season.
The Canadian name of Dufour-Lapointe has been synonymous with moguls at the Olympics since 2010.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the youngest of the three Montreal sisters, is the Olympic champion from 2014 and silver medallist from 2018. Sister Chloe, about to compete in her fourth Olympics, nabbed the silver beside her sister in Sochi in 2014. The pair haven't skied their best this season (Justine's top finish was sixth in non-Olympic dual moguls at Alpe d'Huez, while Chloe's best was eighth at Tremblant), but in a one-run-takes-all scenario, don't count out their experience.
The youngster in the Canadian fold is Sofiane Gagnon. The 22-year-old from Whistler, B.C., has two top 10 finishes from this season and was fourth in dual moguls at the 2021 world championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
WATCH | Marie-Philip Poulin is golden on and off the ice as Canada's captain: