Just like the women, the Canadian men swept the top two spots and collected gold and silver in the moguls competition under the lights at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park Monday (Feb. 10).
That hardly came as a surprise since Mikael Kingsbury and defending gold medalist Alex Bilodeau had split all of the World Cup wins (three each) this season and had pretty well powered through the qualifying rounds. Home crowd favorite Alexandr Smyshlyaev of Russia collected the bronze medal after matching the Canadians nearly turn for turn.
There were plenty of reasons for concern. What had been a rock hard course all week for training had gained a layer of granular snow as warm temperatures softened the surface. The landing areas off the air bumps were smaller than usual, adding a layer of risk to the more difficult jumps.
American Patrick Deneen barely made the final six and finished no better.
“It wasn’t the run I was looking for,” said Deneen. “One thing is, every time I’ve done the 10 in competition I’ve crashed, so it was pretty cool to bring it out at the Olympics and stick two runs. That being said, it just wasn’t my night. My run was close to being what should have been on the podium, but it just wasn’t quite there. I came here for a medal. … I was skiing really well but my finals run I just didn’t ski up to my potential, and it just wasn’t a medal quality run tonight.”
The Canadians (all from Quebec) were positioned perfectly after the round of 12 holding the top three slots among the final six. Bilodeau, however, was in third, having worked back close to the top of the group after a relatively poor showing in the first round of finals, finishing eighth. In the medal round, however, he pulled out all he could muster. He was smooth and powerful through the mogul fields, stomped the landing on a back double full off the top air and landed an exquisite off-axis 1080 on the bottom for a sensational 26.41 score.
Smyshlyaev held the second best marks. Mark-Antoine Gagnon had a shot at giving the Quebecoise all three medals when he threw a back full and off-axis 1080 in his airs, but he finished behind the Russian, the obvious favorite of the fans.
The top qualifier, though, was Kingsbury, the Sidney Crosby to Bilodeau’s Gretzsky. The 21-year-old is the reigning world champion. His slip was so small. He got his shoulders slightly tilted in the bumps between airs to account for the difference between gold and silver.
“It was a big day for me. I didn’t sleep so well the last few nights, and I just made it to the end. I was the last one to drop, and I did a great run — just a little mistake — and Alex totally deserved it. I’m super proud of myself to have this silver medal,” said a glowing Kingsbury in the finish area. “I have a lot of people back in Quebec and Saint-Sauveur watching me. I’m just happy that I made a good result so they can enjoy their time. The best feeling is to see my parents after the medal. They did so much for me, so they are the silver medalists too.”
Bilodeau was faster and cleaner in his turns and got higher air marks to become the first moguls skier in history to repeat as Olympic champion.
“I don’t think it’s sinked in, I still can’t believe it just like I did in Vancouver. It’s a four-year process, you work hard for it and you think about it every day,” said Bilodeau. “On top, I had no regrets. I knew I had done everything to get ready, and I knew I had to put the pressure on that young kid. … So I went for the first or sixth. It was all or nothing, and I went for it. I did the best run of my career, and I need to thank Mikael for pushing me every day for the last four years because I wouldn’t have been able to ski that way today.”
Bilodeau has found inspiration in his career through the relationship with his older brother, Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.
“Mikael is in my mind when I ski, definitely, but my brother is in my mind all the time. When I wake up in the morning and it’s freezing or it’s raining outside I think about my brother, and if he would have that chance to be a normal kid like me, we’d be three-time, four-time Olympic (champions) with the motivation that he has every day.”
Bronze medalist Smyshlyaev provided a great show for the Russian fans who were more raucous and pumped up for this event than any other skiing competition so far at these Olympic Games. Even American Bradley Wilson, who was graciously disappointed with his own performance of finishing 20th, was taken aback by the energy in the stadium as he made is exit, stopping for a moment to take it all in and simply saying, “This is awesome.”
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