Mikaël Kingsbury 1st in Olympic moguls qualifying, advances to men's final
Justine Dufour-Lapointe into women's final while sister Chloé makes Games history
It was the start many expected from Mikaël Kingsbury in China.
The reigning Olympic moguls champion led the opening round of qualifying with 81.15 points on Thursday and moved directly to the first of Saturday's three men's final rounds with nine others at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou.
The 29-year-old from Deux-Montagnes, Que., made it look easy on a cold and breezy evening, displaying great control on his 24.71-second run featuring a cork 720 trick and strong landing.
"It's a good feeling," Kingsbury, also the reigning world champion, told CBC Sports. "I can do my jumps better [with the cork 1080]. I've skied that course a good second-and-a-half faster than I just did.
"The goal is not to win today. It's great that I'm leading right now, but today is just to take as much information [into the] next round. I just look forward for a good day of rest, sit down with my mental trainer, my coaches and make the best plan for Saturday."
WATCH | Dominant Kingsbury clinches berth in Olympic moguls final:
The man with a 2014 Olympic silver medal along with 71 World Cup victories in 120 starts arrived in Beijing feeling at the top of his game and saying he was peaking at the right moment.
On his latest Olympic journey, Kingsbury overcame two broken vertebrae in his back suffered late in 2020 while training in Ruka, Finland. He's fresh off an eighth World Cup podium finish of the season (six victories) and holds a 12-point lead in the standings over friend and rival Ikuma Horishima (16th Thursday) in pursuit of his ninth straight Crystal Globe and 19th of his career as overall season winner.
Qualified 1st today😁🙌🏼 Very good start here in Beijing! Finals saturday LETS GO!!! <a href="https://t.co/3tJrOSLneZ">pic.twitter.com/3tJrOSLneZ</a>—@MikaelKingsbury
Temperatures on Thursday dropped below -18 C with the wind changing directions throughout the event.
"I hope it's cold [in China], I hope it's difficult conditions because these are the conditions where I can shine a bit more," Kingsbury told the Globe and Mail recently.
WATCH | Kingsbury has insatiable appetite for winning:
The three-time world champion is attempting to become the second men's moguls skier to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals and join fellow Canadian Alex Bilodeau, who achieved the feat in 2010 and 2014.
Laurent Dumais, Kingsbury's training partner from Quebec City, was 24th of 28 finishers and will need to finish among the top 10 of 20 skiers in the second qualification round on Saturday to advance to the final in his Olympic debut.
Sixth at last year's world championship, the 25-year-old Dumais missed the opening two World Cups this season with a herniated disc in his back.
The first Olympic final consists of 20 skiers, with the top 12 advancing. From there, six move on to the super final, where the medals will be decided.
In pursuit of 3rd Olympic medal
Walter Wallberg of Sweden placed second at 79.12 on Thursday, ahead of Frenchman Benjamin Cavet at 78.40, who has defeated Kingsbury in head-to-head competition. Australia's Matt Graham, who won a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, did not finish his run.
Earlier in the evening, Justine Dufour-Lapointe moved closer in her quest to win a third consecutive Olympic medal while sister Chloé made freestyle skiing history.
Justine secured the 10th and final automatic qualifying spot for Sunday's first of three finals, topping the Canadian women's contingent with a score of 71.45.
Chloé just missed advancing directly to the final, placing 11th with 70.31 points while becoming the first Canadian woman to compete in freestyle skiing at four Winter Games. Sofiane Gagnon of Whistler, B.C., was 14th of 25 finishers (68.47) and will join her teammate on Sunday battling for the remaining 10 spots in the first final.
Australia's Jakara Anthony led the opening round of women's qualifying with a score of 83.75, followed by defending Olympic gold medallist Perrine Laffont of France with 81.11. American Jaelin Kauf rounded out the top three with 79.15 points.
WATCH | Justine Dufour-Lapointe top Canadian in women's moguls qualifying:
Justine, the two-time Olympic medallist who arrived in Beijing 16th in the World Cup rankings, sported a wide grin and blew kisses to her Canadian fans back home after her run. Those who called the race were a little surprised at a lower-than-expected score for the 27-year-old and wondered if the judges saw a couple of bobbles in her performance.
Seven judges score each run out of 100, with turns (skiing) worth 60 per cent and air and time 20 per cent apiece
Justine, who won Olympic gold in 2014 and silver four years later, was in complete control in the middle part of her run before delivering a cork 720.
Chloe, 30, was the first to ski of the Canadian trio and had her knees driving up and down in control through the moguls with the song You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by former English pop band Dead or Alive blaring over the sound system in the background.
The 2014 silver medallist, who is 15th in the World Cup rankings, was a little out of control at the bottom of her 28.85-second run.
The 22-year-old Gagnon, with two top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit this season, showcased a single backflip in the tuck position she executed perfectly before losing a bit of control near the end of her run.
"There were a few mistakes but I'm super proud of my skiing," she told The Canadian Press. "These last four days of training were pretty tough. This course isn't easy, so I'm so glad that I could block out the distractions of the Games and just focus on my skiing."
Three women didn't finish their runs while some notable athletes missed Thursday's competition:
- Yuliya Galysheva from Kazakhstan, who won bronze at the 2018 Games, did not appear at the starting line.
- American Kai Owens, who fell during a practice session earlier this week, also did not participate in the day's qualifiers.
With files from Reuters, Canadian Press