Deer Valley moguls & aerials to provide pre-Olympic highlight
PARK CITY, USA – It's now a full-on sprint to the finish of the qualification period for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and two branches of the World Cup tour are coming together for the FIS Freestyle Visa International moguls and aerials at Deer Valley Resort, USA, as the two tours pack several events into the last weeks before the Games.
The Deer Valley event is always one of the highlights of the year on the World Cup tour, as thousands of spectators pack into the bottom of the “White Owl” aerials and “Champion” moguls ski runs to watch the best freestyle skiers in the world do battle in night competition under Deer Valley's lights. Throw in live music, a fireworks show, and everything else that Deer Valley has to offer, and you've got the makings of a truly spectacular week of skiing.
Competition gets underway on Thursday, January 9, with the first of two moguls World Cup events of the week. The men and ladies' of moguls arrived at Deer Valley following an excellent week of skiing in Calgary, Canada, where the bitter cold was offset by perhaps the best competition facilities the skiers had ever seen at the Canada Olympic Park venue.
Calgary was only the second event of the year on the moguls tour, though that slow start will now give way to a torrid pace leading up to the Olympics, with four events packed into the final two weeks before the Olympic qualification period cut-off on January 20.
Last week's event saw young Justine Dufour-Lapointe (CAN) facing down the inimitable Hannah Kearney (USA) - and winning - in a battle at the top of the ladies' moguls ranks that is shaping up to be one of the great stories heading into Sochi. Kearney has dominated the top of the ladies' podium since before her gold medal win at the Vancouver 2010 Games, seemingly unbeatable unless the victim of a crash, DNF, or a missed event due to injury, and for Dufour-Lapointe to step up and win in a head-to-head match up suggests the road to a repeat Olympic performance by Kearney may not be a smooth as previously thought.
Strong US skiers Eliza Outtrim and Heather McPhie will both be looking to improve on disappointing Calgary results when they drop on in the Champion course this week. Outtrim, uncharacteristically, found herself on the outside looking in come finals time in Calgary, while McPhie was unable to land cleanly her new run that looks like it may be one of the strongest in the field this season. Expect both athletes to be on top of their game in front of a home crowd.
For the men, the story continues to be Mikael Kingsbury (CAN) vs. Alex Bilodeau (CAN), as the two most explosive skiers on the tour have gone tit-for-tat and head-to-head in nearly every event since Bilodeau returned to full time competition last season. Bilodeau, clearly uninterested in playing second fiddle to his younger teammate, will be looking to exert some dominance over the lengthy Champion course at Deer Valley and build some momentum en route to mounting his own gold medal defence.
Patrick Deneen, 3rd last week in Calgary, leads the US men into the competition, and with two podiums at last year's Deer Valley event – a 3rd in singles and 2nd in dual moguls – Deneen will be looking to do at least that well again on a course that the US team calls home.
After Calgary, Dufour-Lapointe and Kearney are now co-leaders on the World Cup moguls rankings, and will both wear the yellow bib while skiing in Thursday's event. With his two wins, Kingsbury easily leads the men's rankings.
The aerials World Cup wrapped up 2013 in style, as the FIS Freestyle World Cup tour took over the Bird's Nest stadium for a weekend of Audi aerials action on a massive scaffolded slope in the heart of Beijing. With some 23000 fans in attendance, the Beijing competition was likely the only event of the season that will draw a bigger crowd than we will see at Deer Valley on Friday.
In the ladies' event in Beijing it was the ever-strong Chinese team dominating the superfinal by taking three of the top four spots, with Zhang Xin claiming the victory. However, despite the odds in the Chinese team's favour, a full sweep of the podium was averted by the performance of of Vancouver 2010 Olympic gold medallist Lydia Lassila (AUS), who placed 2nd. Xu Mengtao and Li Nina rounded out the top four in Beijing, and after three World Cup events in so far thus season the aerials overall rankings see Li on top, followed by Zhang and Xu.
Ashley Caldwell (USA) comes into Deer Valley as the top ranked American on the World Cup in 2013/14, riding a 2nd place finish at Beida Lake, China, earlier in December. Her teammate, the veteran Emily Cook, has one previous podium at Deer Valley's White Owl venue from 2009, and has a World Cup victory from the 2012/13 season to suggest that she still has the ability to impress come competition time.
In the men's event, Travis Gerrits (CAN) proved the party spoiler in Beijing, winning out in a superfinal that, like the ladies' event, also saw Chinese athletes in three of the top four spots. The win was the first World Cup victory for the 22-year-old athlete, and only his third World Cup podium, illustrating an ability to perform under pressure at an early stage in his career that will surely serve him well this coming February.
Gerrits currently sits atop the aerials leader board, followed by Beida Lake winner Liu Zhongqing (CHN) and last years aerials World Cuup overall winner Jia Zongyang (CHN), who finished third in Beijing.
Event website with full program and schedule available HERE
Men's and ladies' moguls cup standings can be found HERE
Men's and ladies' aerials cup standings can be found HERE