KING OF THE HILL

Mikael Kings­bury wins moguls gold, ce­ments sta­tus as all-time great

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT STIN­SON sstin­son@post­media.com Twit­ter: @scot­t_stin­son

‘I think I screamed very loud,’ Mikael Kings­bury says of the mo­ment he crossed the line af­ter his gold medal-win­ning mogul run, se­cur­ing the fi­nal jewel in his crown. Aus­tralia’s Matt Gra­ham, left, took the sil­ver, while bronze went to Daichi Hara of Ja­pan.

Mikael Kings­bury said all week that it wasn’t about his legacy.

It was about his legacy. With a thrilling fi­nal run at Phoenix Snow Park on Mon­day, all Kings­bury did was lock down his claim to be­ing the best freestyle skier in his­tory, adding an Olympic gold to his absurd moguls re­sume.

Kings­bury, al­ready a leg­end at 25, said af­ter train­ing, and again af­ter qual­i­fy­ing, that he wasn’t thinking about the gold. There was too much work to do, he said. So, did he fi­nally start to think about it up in the start­ing gate, when he was the sec­ond-last skier and his big­gest ri­vals had al­ready fal­tered?

“No,” he said. “I thought about it all morn­ing. And I was su­per ner­vous.”

Now, it was hon­esty time. He knew, no mat­ter what he kept say­ing, that his ca­reer needed this medal. No one wants to be the most dom­i­nant moguls skier in his­tory who twice failed to win the big­gest com­pe­ti­tion in the sport.

“I mean, that’s part of the rea­son I was ner­vous,” said Kings­bury, who learned to ski in the moun­tains north of Mon­treal, and who made a pic­ture of the Olympic rings that he stuck on the ceil­ing in his child­hood bed­room. “There was a lot of pres­sure on my shoul­ders, which I man­aged, and I’m proud of the way I man­aged it.”

Some­what sur­pris­ingly, the pres­sure only in­creased as the men’s moguls fi­nal un­folded on Mon­day night. While Kings­bury eas­ily posted the best score in qual­i­fy­ing last week, his first run in the fi­nal was shaky by his nor­mal stan­dards. He was fourth af­ter that run, good enough to eas­ily make the top 12 that ad­vanced to the sec­ond round, but not the state­ment run that many ex­pected.

Kings­bury im­proved in the next round, plac­ing sec­ond as the field was trimmed to six skiers, and at the same time some of his ma­jor threats fell away. Ja­pan’s Ikuma Hor­ishima, who snapped Kings­bury’s 13-event win streak last month at Mont-Trem­blant, Que., fell dur­ing his run and didn’t fin­ish. Dmitriy Rei­herd of Kaza­khstan, the sec­ond-ranked skier on the World Cup cir­cuit, fin­ished but stum­bled, and didn’t make the third round. Ja­pan’s Sho Endo, who had the top score in the first round, fell and didn’t fin­ish the sec­ond.

The chal­lengers were drop­ping off, but that only meant that Kings­bury, who won a sil­ver in Sochi when he was in a sim­i­lar fi­nal-run po­si­tion, would never have a bet­ter chance to se­cure that Olympic gold. To lose now would be un­bear­able.

Aus­tralia’s Matt Gra­ham, ski­ing just ahead of him, moved into first place with a run of 82.57. It was the best score of any run to that point, but well off Kings­bury’s rou­tine bril­liance.

And up in the start­ing gate, Kings­bury stopped thinking about gold. “Once I clipped my boots on, ev­ery­thing went away,” he said.

He bombed down the steep course, with two near-per­fect aeri­als and a fast, smooth run over the moguls that had claimed those ri­vals.

When he hit the fin­ish line, “I think I screamed very loud,” he said. “You think about that mo­ment all your life. I think all the stress and the pres­sure, and my­self thinking about these Games for the past four years since Sochi, you know, when I landed the bot­tom air, ev­ery­thing went away. I stopped be­ing ner­vous, and when I crossed the line, I was just like, ‘Oh my God, I think I did it.’”

There were still a few mo­ments of ten­sion while he waited for his score, and when it went up — a huge 86.63 — Kings­bury’s eyes went wide and his mouth was agape. With one skier left, Ja­pan’s Daichi Hara, Kings­bury had just posted an un­touch­able score.

Gra­ham would say later when he saw his own score posted, he knew he wasn’t go­ing to win gold. There was no way that 82.57 would sur­vive a fi­nal as­sault from the best moguls skier in his­tory.

“It’s unbelievable what he does,” Gra­ham said. “He’s an amaz­ing ath­lete and the abil­ity to put down run af­ter run the way he does is sec­ond to none. No one can do it like he can.”

Hara’s fi­nal run was good for 82.19 and a bronze medal. That left Mon­treal’s Marc-An­toine Gagnon in fourth place — the sec­ond straight Olympics in which he fin­ished one spot out of the medals.

It was the one twinge of dis­ap­point on an oth­er­wise per­fect night for Kings­bury. He al­ready holds the records for World Cup wins, most con­sec­u­tive wins, sea­son moguls ti­tles and over­all freestyle ti­tles. And as much as he didn’t like to ad­mit it, there was an Olympic-gold-sized hole in that re­mark­able ca­reer record.

That hole is now filled. There are count­less sto­ries of dom­i­nant ath­letes who, for one rea­son or an­other, couldn’t peak at the right time ev­ery four years. Mikael Kings­bury, for­ever, will not be one of them.

“I won the Olympics,” he said. “I’m the Olympic cham­pion for the rest of my life. I don’t know, I don’t have any words right now.”

We can for­give him for that.

JEAN LEVAC

JEAN LEVAC

Mikael Kings­bury, the sec­ond-last skier on the fi­nal run at Phoenix Snow Park, ad­mit­ted af­ter­ward he was “su­per ner­vous” about his per­for­mance.

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