With a daylight start time and the absence of the thousands of fans who gather, year-in and year-out, at the bottom of the Champion Run to take in the action on what is one of the world’s best moguls courses, Thursday’s Intermountain Healthcare FIS Freestyle Skiing moguls World Cup at Deer Valley Resort (USA) certainly had a different vibe than we’re used to.
What was familiar, however, were the two skiers we saw climb to the top of the podium once competition had wrapped up on the imposing Champion Run, with Perrine Laffont (FRA) defending last year’s Deer Valley MO title for the women, and Mikael Kingsbury (CAN) making a triumphant return to competition with the victory for the men.
After Wednesday’s training saw some heavy snow hitting DV, the weather played nice for Thursday’s competition, and by the afternoon’s finals it was mostly blue sky and sunshine overtop of the perfectly prepared venue.
Laffont makes it four in a row in 2020/21
With a handful of top names unable to make it out of final one and into the six-woman superfinal - including top US hopefuls like Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar, along with Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada and others - the opportunity for a big shakeup on the podium was there to be had for skiers still looking for their first top-3 result of the season.
However, any really big shakeup would have required a big mistake from the queen of moguls Laffont, and the three time reigning moguls crystal globe winner - and the winner in three out of three World Cup competitions thus far in 2020/21 - just wasn’t having that.
Doing what she has continued to do so consistently for the past four seasons, Laffont dropped in last and skied fast and smooth in her superfinal run, putting down the best numbers across the board with the fastest time, the best airs and the best turns, for a final score of 83.23 and her third career win in Deer Valley.
“Yeah, I’m supper happy,” Laffont following her win, “It’s been almost two months without a competition and I was feeling pretty nervous before today. But I was able to get over the nerves and put down my runs I’m happy about the win.”
Second place on the day went to a skier who is quickly emerging as a true star of the FIS Freestyle moguls World Cup tour, as 16 year-old Anri Kawamura of Japan attacked the Champion Run course in her superfinal run to earn a score of 80.94 and the first top-3 finish of her young career at the legendary Deer Valley venue. Thursday’s podium was Kawamura’s third straight in 2020/21, and the result launched her into second place overall on the moguls World Cup rankings with 252 points.
Speaking of ‘firsts,’ a good day for the Japanese team turned into a great one, as Kawamura’s Japanese teammate Kisara Sumiyoshi earned the first podium of her career on Thursday. Now in her sixth season of World Cup action, Sumiyoshi has stepped things up in a big way over the past two campaigns, and now has a huge career milestone at one of the toughest venues in moguls skiing to show for it.
With the win, Laffont’s perfect season so far has her sitting at 400 points, and with another strong performance in Friday’s dual moguls competition she could lock up what would be her fourth straight crystal globe. Kawamura, meanwhile, leapfrogged Kauf and now sits in second place with 252 points.
Kingsbury victorious in comeback
You knew that if there was any chance at all for Mikael Kingsbury to be back in the start gate at Deer Valley he would be there, and the greatest moguls skier of all time showed up in a big way on Thursday.
Having broken two vertebrae in training before the season-opening World Cup in Ruka back in December, Kingsbury was forced to miss an extended period of competition time due to injury for the first time in his career to start the 2020/21 season. And while he now finds himself well back of the leaders when it comes to his quest for a tenth-straight moguls crystal globe, Thursday’s performance in Deer Valley silenced any questions about how well he would be able to recover his form after such a potentially serious injury.
While Kingsbury’s run in the first round of finals was somewhat tentative, sending him into the superfinal ranked second behind Ikuma Horishima of Japan, in the superfinal he did what he has done more than any other skier in moguls World Cup history, rising to the occasion and putting down a near-flawless final run.
While he had the second fastest time of the superfinal and narrowly earned the best turn scores of the round - just .10 better than second-place finisher Benjamin Cavet of France - Kingsbury’s near-perfect airs put him a cut above the rest, with a total score of 88.10 for the 64th win of his incredible career.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Kingsbury smiled from the finish area after his win, “Just two months ago I had two fractures in my back, I was watching these guys compete from my couch and I couldn’t walk or even sleep very well. I worked hard with my trainers back home and did a lot of rehab. I came back here without any expectations, I just wanted to ski my best. This one feels extra special.”
As mentioned, France’s Cavet skied an exceptional competition, with his turning scores just shy of Kingsbury’s benchmark, and he earned a total score of 86.25 for his second podium of the season and his second career podium in Deer Valley.
Earning his first podium so far in 2020/21 and his fourth career podium in Deer Valley was Matt Graham of Australia, putting down a superfinal score of 84.44 to round out the the top-3 in third place.
Fjallstrom opens narrow lead on World Cup standings
There was some interesting action on the men’s leaderboard on Thursday, with Sweden’s Ludvig Fjallstrom jumping Ito sole possession of top spot. Fjallstrom came into Thursday’s competition tied with Horishima, and was sitting in fourth place when Horishima dropped in as the final skier of the afternoon.
While Horishima could have played things safe and likely topped Fjallstrom’s score with a solid run, he instead went for incredibly difficult 1440 on the second jump and ended up in the backseat of his landing.
With the mistake, Horishima ended up finishing in fifth place behind Fjallstrom, giving the Swede a lead of 222 points to Horshima’s 217 with two events left on the World Cup calendar.
Action continues on Thursday at the Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International at Deer Valley on Thursday, where the dual moguls competition is slated to go down with finals at 12:30 local time.