This article was written by Donna Spencer for The Canadian Press and published on metronews.ca
Alex Bilodeau retired this year after defending his Olympic gold medal in moguls, but silver medallist Mikael Kingsbury has no shortage of competition from within his own Canadian team.
In the years between winning his gold medals in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, Bilodeau was constantly challenged, and often beaten in World Cups and world championships by the upstart Kingsbury.
The Canadians were each other’s measuring sticks, which helped propel them to the top two steps of the podium in Sochi, Russia, in February.
When Bilodeau announced in October that he was putting away his skis to study accounting, the question was who could step up and challenge Kingsbury?
But such is Canada’s depth of talent in men’s moguls that just making the national team requires being among the best in the world.
Heading into Saturday’s World Cup at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Kingsbury is chasing teammate Phil Marquis for the overall World Cup lead.
Marquis, a 25-year-old from Quebec City, won the season-opening dual moguls last month in Ruka, Finland, to don the World Cup leader’s yellow bib.
Dual moguls, in which two skiers race each other to the bottom of a course, is not yet an Olympic event but is a staple of the World Cup circuit and world championships.
Skiers are judged and scored on their turns, acrobatics and speed in single moguls, which is an Olympic event.
Saturday’s single moguls race in Calgary is the first of the 2014-15 World Cup season. Kingsbury has won gold in Calgary four straight years.
“It’s a pretty tricky course,” said the 22-year-old from Deux-Montagne, Que.
“You have to be very smart and I think I’m a smart skier. I make good decisions. There’s a big pitch change here and you have to control your speed. That’s something I’m good at.
“I don’t want to focus on winning, but I want to focus on my skiing. If I do that, I put myself in a very good position to win here again in Calgary.”
Marc-Antoine Gagnon of Terrebone, Que., is also in the men’s field Saturday. He nearly made it a Canadian podium sweep in Sochi by finishing fourth. Marquis was ninth to put four Canadian men in the top 10 at the Winter Games.
The women’s field Saturday features Montreal sisters Justine Dufour-Lapointe and Chloe, who won Olympic gold and silver respectively in Sochi, as well as two-time Olympian Audrey Robichaud of Quebec City.
The top 12 from morning qualification advance to the final, followed by the top six moving onto the super final.
Kingsbury knew his rivalry with Bilodeau was good for both of them. Another one developing with Marquis can keep him sharp and hungry in this post-Olympic season.
“This year Phil has the yellow bib, so it’s kind of bringing it back to that rivalry I had with Alex,” Kingsbury said. “It’s always fun to have that with your friends and teammates.
“I’ve been training with Phil all summer. He’s getting better every day. He’s going to be a good challenge all year. He’s feeling confident now that he wears that yellow bib. I’m planning on getting it back, but one day at a time.”
The reigning world moguls champion edged Bilodeau by one point last season to win the overall World Cup crown for a third time in his career. Kingsbury finished ninth and Gagnon sixth in dual moguls in Finland to start this season.
Marquis hopes he and Gagnon can be what Bilodeau was to Kingsbury with the intra-team competition driving them all to international success.
“In the past, we’ve seen Mik and Alex kind of being the one-two punch of the team,” Marquis said. “For now, I think we have way more depth.
“The three of us who have been to the Olympics have the potential to reach new heights. All of us kind of pushing each other every day on and off the slopes, is what’s going to make the Canadian freestyle team super-strong.”
The World Cup in Calgary is the second of eight stops on the circuit for the moguls skiers this season. The moguls team has another home race Feb. 7 in Val Sainte-Come, Que.
The 2015 world freestyle ski championships are Jan. 15-25 in Kreischberg, Austria. Kingsbury wants to defend his singles title as well as win dual moguls to sweep gold there.
“I’m having fun with what I do,” Kingsbury said. “I’m taking it very seriously. I’m trying to make the little details make the difference. There’s no secret. I’m just skiing and trying to look good when I’m skiing.”