Schild gets first win and Kingsbury makes history in Tazawako dual moguls
TAZAWAKO, JPN – A big weekend of back-to-back moguls events in Tazawako, Japan, wrapped up on Sunday with a thrilling dual moguls event that saw 17-year-old Morgan Schild (USA) capture her first World Cup victory on the ladies' side and Mikael Kingsbury (CAN) set one record and tie another in the men's competition.
After clear skies and excellent conditions had predominated through training, both competition days saw some tougher conditions, and on Sunday that meant a mixed bag of wind, snow, and wet coast dampness that threw an extra variable into the already unpredictable dual moguls format.
In spite of this, Schild, the youngest competitor in the competition, was able to move through three difficult heats on her way to the final, defeating the World Cup's second-ranked lady and Sochi gold medallist Justine Dufour-Lapointe (CAN), Saturday's second-place skier Junko Hoshino (JPN), and fellow upstart Alex-Anne Gagnon (CAN) on her way to a showdown with home crowd favourite Satsuki Ito (JPN).
In the big final, Schild showed the skill and poise that have many tagging her as the heir-apparent to retiring legend Hannah Kearney for the US team, as she was able to take the win in the tough conditions in just her sixth World Cup start.
Ito's second-place performance was also her first career podium, and the 21-year-old was thrilled to register the result on home soil in front of a large crowd at the new World Cup venue.
And while the above-mentioned Kearney struggled a bit on a day when she was seeking to tie Donna Weinbrecht's ladies' moguls record of 46 victories, the ever impressive skier was still able to wrestle a third-place podium result out of the day, defeating Gagnon in the small final and extending her World Cup moguls lead to 146 points over Dufour-Lapointe and thereby clinching her fifth-straight moguls crystal globe.
Gagnon, like Schild, was competing in just the sixth event of her World Cup career, and her fourth-place result was her best thus far.
On the men's side, Kingsbury on Sunday set one record and tied another, and furthered the case that, at just 22 years of age, he must be considered among the very best who have ever competed on the Freestyle World Cup.
His win on Sunday was his seventh straight, eclipsing the mark of six consecutive wins he had already co-held with Jeremy Bloom (USA). Further, Kingsbury's win tied him with Edgar Grospiron (FRA) for the most men's moguls World Cup wins, period - meaning that with one event left to go in the season, Kingsbury could end 2014/15 as the winningest moguls skier of all time at a time when he is really just hitting his physical peak.
In his big final dual, Kingsbury faced down his teammate and good friend Philippe Marquis. Marquis, who came out of the gate hard in 2014/15 with a win at the first event of the season in Ruka, had been struggling to re-find his form of late, consistently registering top-10 results but being unable to make his way onto the podium.
On Sunday he did finally find his way back, pushing Kingsbury to the limit, but it just not able to knock “The King” from his throne.
Third place on the day went to 20-year-old Matt Graham (AUS), whose breakout season continues with his third podium of 2014/15.
With his third place result, Graham averted a Canadian sweep by beating Simon Pouliot-Cavanagh (CAN) in the small final. However, with Marc-Antoine Gagnon coming in fifth, the Canadian squad did end up taking four of the top five spots on the day.
The tour now moves to Megeve, France, for the moguls World Cup finals dual moguls competition on March 15th. There, we will see if Hannah Kearney can head into retirement tied with her compatriot Weinbrecht for the most ladies' moguls wins of all time, and if Mikael Kingsbury can take sole possession of that same honour on the men's side.