PyeongChang 2018 OWG preview: Moguls
The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games officially get underway on February 9, 2018, when the Opening Ceremony will welcome athletes, nations, and the world to the 23rd iteration of the quadrennial celebration of winter sports.
However, well before the Opening Ceremony the ladies and men of moguls skiing will be getting their laps in on the picture perfect piste at the Olympic Freestyle Skiing venue in Phoenix Park, with the first of four days of training getting underway on Monday, Feb 5, with qualification for all athletes taking place on Friday, Feb 9.
Ladies’ finals will then open Freestyle skiing medal competition on Sunday, under the lights, with the super finals pushing out of the gates at 21:00 local time. The men will follow on Monday, also at 21:00.
Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games moguls results
Gold - Justine Dufour-Lapointe (CAN)
Silver - Chloe Dufour-Lapointe (CAN)
Bronze - Hannah Kearney (USA)
Gold - Alex Bilodeau (CAN)
Silver - Mikael Kingsbury (CAN)
Bronze - Alexandr Smyshliaev (RUS)
Kauf, Cox, and Laffont lead ladies’ field
Coming off of last season it seemed like the ladies’ gold would be Britteny Cox’s to lose, as the 23-year-old Australian dominated 2016/17 by taking seven victories in 11 competitions on her way to claiming the moguls and the Freestyle overall crystal globes, before going on to also take gold at the Sierra Nevada 2017 world championships in Spain.
With Perrine Laffont (FRA) finishing second overall in the standings and taking gold in the dual moguls at Sierra Nevada, and Sochi 2014 Olympic gold medallist Justine Dufour-Lapointe finishing third in the standings to make it seven straight seasons she had finished in the top five, most would have assumed that those three would be the clear cut choices for medal favourites in PyeongChang.
However, while Cox, Laffont, and Dufour-Lapointe are all very much in the conversation heading into the Games, the ladies’ field has become much more complicated through the 2017/18 season.
The number one athlete upsetting the pecking order is number one of the 2017/18 standings, as 21-year-old Jaelin Kauf (USA) leads a strong, young US squad into the Games with two victories and four total podiums in seven World Cup competitions this season - including an impressive win on home soil at the moguls World Cup’s biggest stage in Deer Valley. With her proven ability to step up in high-pressure situations, Kauf could very well step on to the top of the podium in Korea.
Behind Kauf on the World Cup standings is an athlete who is perhaps the safest bet for a podium of any on the ladies side, as Canada’s Andi Naude has finished no lower than 6th in all seven competitions this season, including three podiums in that time.
Behind Naude last year’s favourites start popping up, with Laffont in third on the overall, Cox fourth, and Dufour-Lapointe sitting in sixth.
Really, it’s wide-open on the ladies’ side, but perhaps Cox’s win at the Olympic test event in Phoenix Park last season might give her the mental advantage to seize the victory that seemed almost assured at the end of last season.
Kingsbury favourite, but Horishima could steal show
On the men’s side of things, anybody who even remotely follows moguls skiing knows that one man stands alone as the king of FIS Freestyle World Cup, and that man is Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury.
With six straight moguls and Freestyle overall crystal globes to his name, Kingsbury comes into PyeongChang 2018 after recently setting the moguls all-time World Cup wins record (now at 48 victories and counting), and fresh off of a record 13 consecutive wins streak that included wins in the first six competitions of this season. With his silver medal from the Sochi 2014 Games and world championships golds in single and dual moguls, really the only thing left to add to his trophy case is an Olympic gold medal.
Kingsbury is THE man, and everyone else is just trying to keep up…though some athletes are proving better able at that than others.
One of those athletes is Dmitriy Reikherd of Kazakhstan, a 12-year World Cup veteran who has four runner-up results behind Kingsbury as well as a third place podium this season to sit second overall behind the Canadian. Riekherd has kept on Kingsbury’s heels throughout 2017/18, finishing just behind him on a variety of course from Calgary (CAN) to Thaiwoo (CHN), and with a runner-up finish last season on the PyeongChange course Reikherd has proven his ability to compete on the Olympic slope.
After Reikherd things get a little more muddy for the men, as some flashes of excellence from the likes of Matt Graham (AUS), Sho Endo (JPN), and Bradley Wilson (USA) put them all in the mix, while perhaps the best hope for a Freestyle medal for the the host Korean squad in any competition comes from Jaewoo Choi, who currently sits fourth overall on the World Cup leaderboard.
However, the man Kingsbury and the rest of the moguls field should perhaps be most worried about is Japan’s Ikuma Horishima.
Despite having just one World Cup podium to his name at the time, Horishima stepped up to become the first man ever to take double world championships gold by winning both the singles and the dual moguls competitions last season at the Sierra Nevada 2017 competitions. Then, in the last event this season before the Olympic break, he was the man who stepped up and said ‘Enough is enough,’ besting Kingsbury on home soil in Tremblant, Canada, to end Kingsbury’s record win streak and put the sole blemish on what had been until that point a perfect season.
To say that Horishima seems impervious to pressure might not be giving the 19-year-old skier enough credit. Instead, it feels almost like he grows taller the higher the stakes, skiing faster, turning tighter, and jumping higher when it’s all on the line. It’s the perfect tonic for a competition as big as the one coming up in Korea, and Kingsbury will definitely have his eye on Horishima when we get down to business in Phoenix Park.