KING OF THE HILL
Mikael Kingsbury wins moguls gold, cements status as all-time great
‘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.
Mikael Kingsbury, the second-last skier on the final run at Phoenix Snow Park, admitted afterward he was “super nervous” about his performance.