A big and hugely encouraging weekend of freestyle skiing action wrapped up on Saturday in Finland, where pre-competition favourites Perrine Laffont (FRA) and Ikuma Horishima (JPN) put down dominant performances to take the first victories of 2020/21 at the Freestyle Opening Ruka moguls World Cup.
This season marked the 11th-straight that Ruka has served as the jumping-off point for the FIS Freestyle moguls World Cup season, and as always the resort did not disappoint, with the Battery Run moguls venue once again rewarding those best able to attack its deep bumps and steep pitch.
Laffont picks up right where she left off for season-opening win
Last season Perrine Laffont recorded the type of campaign that we haven’t seen since the heyday of the great Hannah Kearney (USA), as the Frenchwoman racked up eight wins in 10 events on her way to her third straight moguls crystal globe. On Saturday Laffont picked things back up right where she left them in 2019/20, dominating proceedings from qualifications straight through to the super final.
With her well-balanced combination of elite speed, turns and jump package, Laffont really has no weaknesses, and with the final run of the women’s competition on Saturday she once again put all the pieces together to earn a score of 79.18 to record the 18th win of her career and her third-straight victory in Ruka.
“It’s always a little stressful at the first event of the season,” said a smiling Laffont from the finish area, “You ask yourself a lot of questions - ‘Am I going to ski good? Am I going to jump well?’ Back I’ve got my mental coach here and she helped me a lot to manage the pressure, so I think I did my best today and here we are! Now we’re off to Sweden tomorrow and we’ll just try to stay safe and healthy and keep going.”
Second place for the women went to the USA’s Jaelin Kauf, who put down the fastest run of the super final but saw some deductions from the judges for her turns drop her score down to a 75.74. The podium was the 17th of Kauf’s career and her third-straight dating back to last season.
Just behind Kauf in third place on the women’s side was 18 year-old Anastasiia Smirnova (RUS), who earned a score of 74.27 for the second World Cup podium of her career. Smirnova’s podium capped off a big weekend in Finland for the Russian team, who also claimed four podiums in Friday’s aerials World Cup competition.
Horishima makes no mistake in first Ruka victory
In eight of the last nine seasons, Canada’s moguls ace Mikael Kingsbury has kicked off his winter by winning in Ruka, essentially owning the Finnish venue in dominating performance after dominating performance. However, with Kingsbury back home recovering from an injury to begin the 2020/21 campaign, the door was left wide open for rest of the moguls World Cup to step through, and on Saturday Ikuma Horishima put down a Kingsbury-like performance to do just that.
Last year’s runner-up in Ruka, Horishima showed again this season that the steep and challenging Finnish course suits him just fine, as he attacked the Battery Run to put down the second fastest time of the super final. That, combined with the highest jump scores and second best turning scores, gave the 22 year-old a total of 80.86 and the first-ever win by a Japanese skier at the venue.
“If you win in Ruka you start the season with the yellow bib,” said Horishima after his victory, “And I have always wanted to have the victory here. Last season I was second, but now this year I have my first win in Ruka and the yellow bib and I’m very happy.”
Just back of Horoshima in second place was Switzerland’s Marco Tade, who skied an exceptional middle section of the course to earn the highest turning scores of any skier in the super final and a final score of 78.93.
Tade was sidelined by a knee injury for two full years from January 2018 to January 2020, and then struggled last season to return to the form that saw him win dual moguls bronze at the Sierra Nevada 2017 world championships. On Saturday, however, the 25 year-old proved that the long road back to the upper-echelon of the moguls world was behind him.
“After quite some trouble physically it’s good to be back,” said a relieved Tade from the finish area, “It shows that hard work pays off. Now I want to be consistent all season and be in finals and put up results, so hopefully I can keep it going in Idre.”
Third place for the men went Sweden’s Ludvig Fjallstrom, who earned a score of 76.09 to wipe away the memories of a few tough seasons by earning his second career World Cup podium, nearly five years after his first.
With Ruka in the books it’s on to Sweden for the FIS Freestyle moguls World Cup family, where the venue at Idre Fjall will make its debut as a moguls host next weekend. Moguls competition in Idre will take place from 11-12 December, followed by the season’s first dual moguls competition on the 13th.