Dufour-Lapointe steals sister's bib while Graham earns first win in Deer Valley
Deer Valley, USA - What was likely the most jam-packed day in the history of the Deer Valley Visa Freestyle International wrapped up on Thursday night with a moguls competition that saw Justine Dufour-Lapointe (CAN) claim victory and snatch the yellow World Cup leader’s bib away from her sister Chloe in the ladies’ competition, while Matt Graham (AUS) was able to put down on of the best runs of his life to defeat Mikael Kingsbury (CAN) and earn his first World Cup victory in men’s competition.
For a while it looked the story of the evening in the ladies’ competition was going to be the performance of Jaelin Kauf (USA), a 19-year-old rookie with just two World Cup starts before Thursday, who put down one of the most impressive runs of the competition in the first final to lead the field into the super final.
Despite her lack of experience and the pressure she surely felt from the typically-huge Deer Valley crowd gathered below, Kauf attacked her final run with gusto, skiing the fastest time of the finals while throwing two of the biggest airs. Were it not for a sketchy landing on her second jump and an imperfect finish as a result, we might here be talking about one of the quickest World Cup winners of all time.
As it turned out on Thursday night, however, experience would rule once again on the imposing Champion Run moguls course, with Justine Dufour-Lapointe’s hard-charging superfinal run ending up being enough to edge her smooth-skiing sister Chloe and an impressive Yulia Galysheva (KAZ) by the barest of margins.
Despite a small bobble on her top jump, Justine was able to collect herself nicely and ski the crucial middle section of the Deer Valley course cleanly and aggressively, before finishing her run off with a perfectly laid-out backflip to claim her first win of the season.
“Deer Valley is always such a hard challenge for us, but I put down three good runs today to get to the top of the podium,” Justine said following the awards ceremony, “I’m happy with my skiing today. I feel like all my hard work and all the training I’ve done finally paid off today. I felt strong, I felt balanced, I felt fast. And gaining back the yellow bib is such an amazing feeling. I remember having Hannah (Kearney) with me last season, battling for that yellow bib, and now it’s Chloe this year, and I think it’s good for me to have that battle.”
Justine’s score of 77.80 was only just enough to edge Galysheva and her crowd-favourite truck-driver frontflip final trick, while Chloe - last weekend’s winner in Calgary - was forced to both settle for third and hand her World Cup leader’s bib over to her younger sister. Galysheva finished just .05 back of Justine with a score of 77.75, while Chloe was only slightly back of Galysheva, with her score of 77.11 making for one of the tightest podium results ever seen.
Third Dufour-Lapointe sister Maxime just missed out on completing another sister sweep of the podium in fourth, while Marika Pertakhiya (RUS) in fifth and Kauf in sixth rounded out the superfinal athletes.
In men’s competition, it appeared that Thursday was to be a continuation of the way things have gone all season for World Cup leader Mikael Kingsbury, as he skied two clinical runs to lead the way to the superfinal.
However, a small mistake in his last run would prove to be just enough of an opening for Matt Graham to squeeze through, as the 21-year-old Aussie laid down a near-flawless turning performance to beat the best in the world and earn the first World Cup victory of his career.
Graham, who has skied well this season, with four straight top-10's, scored his second podium, and now sits in second on the 2015/16 World Cup leaderboard.
“Mikael seems to have always kind of got me. He always beats me. He’s the top guy and he’s dominated the sport for four or five years, so to look up and see his final score below mine, yeah, that was a nice feeling. I’ve been waiting and hoping to get on that top podium step for a while, so it’s really satisfying.
“I’ve been kind of creeping my way up and getting closer to (Kingsbury), really working hard in my training on and off snow, and I feel like it’s paying off. I’m closing the gap, but there’s still a long way to go.”
The men’s superfinal was a truly international affair, with six different nations represented by the six final athletes. While Jimi Salonen (FIN), Sho Endo (JPN), and Aleksey Pavlenko (RUS) all clocked solid runs, it would be 22-year-old Ludwig Fjallstrom (SWE) to step up in the night’s finale, skiing an inspired competition from front to back on his way to his first career World Cup podium.
Fjallstrom’s podium came in his 49th World Cup competition, and marks a welcome development for a Swedish team that has been gradually coming on in recent seasons.
Action from the Deer Valley Visa Freestyle International continues on Friday with the second aerials competition of the weekend, with that edition to be held under the lights on Deer Valley’s picture-perfect White Owl aerials pitch.
Hi-res photos from Thursday’s event (for editorial use)