Kreischberg 2015: Freestyle skiing's "Ones to Watch"
KREISCHBERG, AUT - With 333 Freestyle ski athletes from 23 nations participating in 11 days of competition, the Kreischberg 2015 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard world championships will be the biggest event on snow from January 15th to 25th.
With so much going on over the course of the competition, we thought we'd put together a little primer on who to watch out for, based on a results so far this season mixed in with a little historical precedent for good measure.
LADIES – Voss 2013 world champion Xu Mengtao (CHN) has been one of the most dominant Freestyle athletes in any discipline dating back to 2008/09, having been in the top-5 in each season since then, with three aerials crystal globes and one Freestyle overall crystal globe to her credit. Xu has two victories thus far in 2014/15, and when she sticks her landings she's generally unbeatable. However, when she doesn't put it down cleanly, ladies like Danielle Scott (AUS), Kiley McKinnon (USA), and Ashley Caldwell (USA) have all stepped up their games this season, showing abilities on the triple jump that truly threaten Xu's reign at the top.
MEN – Qi Guangpu (CHN) is, quite simply, the top aerialist in the world right now, and has been for quite some time. At last Thursday's event in Deer Valley Qi put down one of the highest-scoring jumps ever recorded, with his near-perfect double-full, full, double-full earning a him 138.50 that was 9.99 points better than his next competitor. Coming into Kreischberg as the reigning world champion, it is going to be a tall order for anyone looking to strip him of his crown.
While Qi, Jia Zongyang, and the rest of the Chinese team have been the dominant force for several seasons, there are signs that change is in the air. The first aerials competition of the season saw Russian duo Pavel Krotov and Ilya Burov place second and third behind behind Qi, respectively, while 19-year-old Mac Bohonnon (USA) has been scoring a personal best with nearly every successive jump this season. Factor in the participation of Maxim Gustik and the rest of the Belarusian team for the first time in 2014/15 and there's certainly room for an upset at Kreischberg.
LADIES – Hannah Kearney (USA) has been the undisputed queen of the World Cup moguls circuit since 2011, with four-straight moguls crystal globes dating back to that time. She was the moguls world champion 10 years ago at Ruka 2005 and again at Voss 2013, and has a total of six world championship podiums to her name. With this season already announced as her last, expect Kearney to put everything she has into heading into retirement with at least one – if not both – of the moguls and dual moguls world championship titles in Kreischberg.
However, none of this is going to come easy for her, as both Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe have topped Kearney at competitions thus far in 2014/15, with Justine taking their most recent head-to-head battle in the Deer Valley dual moguls this past weekend and Chloe looking to defend her Voss 2013 dual moguls title here in Kreischeberg. Justine currently sits at the top of the moguls World Cup leaderboard, followed by Kearney and Chloe. Expect the battle between these three to be intense.
MEN – After a quick misstep in the first competition of the season in Ruka, Mikael Kingsbury (CAN) is back on track with three straight resounding moguls victories coming into Kreischberg. Kingsbury has won the past three Freestyle World Cup overall crystal globes as the top man in all the freestyle disciplines and has podiums in every world championship event entered in his career, including a win in the single moguls at Voss 2013, and now that his teammate Alex Bilodeau has retired there are few who match his speed and technique. Barring a mistake on the part of Kingsbury, skiers like Philippe Marquis (CAN), Patrick Deneen (USA), and Matt Graham (AUS) will likely be battling for second place.
LADIES – At only 18 years old, 2013/14 slopestyle crystal globe winner Lisa Zimmermann (GER) is one of the most original freeskiers in the world right now, with a bag of tricks that few other ladies can even approach competing with. However, should Zimmermann's lack of experience show on competition day, athletes like Yuki Tsubota (CAN), Jamie Crane-Mauzy (USA), and Darian Stevens (USA) are all more than capable of putting together a wining run.
MEN – Russ Henshaw (AUS) heads into Krieschberg as one of the marquee athletes on the bill, having turned down an invite to X Games in favour of stepping up to represent his country and improve upon the third place result he scored at the Park City 2011 world ski championships. However, Henshaw will be in tough against the likes of Noah Wallace (USA), Jonas Hunziker (SUI), and local hero Luca Tribondeau (AUT) on the smooth-flowing Kreischberg course.
LADIES – Virginie Faivre (SUI) will be back attempting to defend her 2013 world championship title against the likes of Katrien Aerts (BEL), Anais Caradeaux (FRA), and Keltie Hansen (CAN). While Faivre is 32 years old and has struggled with injuries over the past couple of seasons, she was able to return strong last season at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, scoring a fourth-place result in her first competition back from injury. With her experience and consistency, she will be tough to beat in Kreischberg.
MEN – It's anybody's game in men's ski halfpipe, with names like Matt Margetts (CAN), Walter Wood (USA), Yannic Lerjen (SUI) and Kyle Smaine (USA) all capable of putting down contending runs come competition day. Marco Ladner (AUT) will be the darkhorse local hope, while Antti-Jussi Kemppainen will be looking to rediscover the form that saw him place fifth at the Voss 2013 world chmapionship competition.
LADIES – While Voss 2013 world champion Fanny Smith (SUI) comes into Kreischberg skiing strongly, with three top ten finishes and a podium so far in 2014/15, it's last season's crystal globe winner and Olympic gold medallist Marielle Thompson (CAN) who will be the one to beat. Thompson has three wins in three races this season, and has lead in almost every phase of every competition along the way. Backed up by teammate Georgia Simmerling (the duo went 1-2 in the season's first two races), Thompson is in prime shape to finish off the Olympic gold – crystal globe – world championship gold triple crown come January 25th in Kreischberg.
MEN – While there are no clear frontrunners so far in 2014/15 on the Audi ski cross World Cup tour, a smart gambler would put their money on Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) to repeat. Chapuis took gold at the Voss 2015 world championships and then followed that up by leading a French sweep of the podium at Sochi 2014, proving himself perhaps the best high-pressure performer on the ski cross tour. Expect names like Brady Leman (CAN), Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE), and Andy Schauer (GER) to challenge the speedy Frenchman.