On a perfect, spring-soft course and in front of a huge crowd, the 2013-14 FIS Freestyle World Cup moguls season came to an end on Friday night in La Plagne, France, as the top mogul skiers in the world battled it out in dual moguls competition.
By the end of the night, it would be Hannah Kearney (USA) and Alex Bilodeau (CAN) standing on top of the podium for the race, and Kearney and Mikael Kingsbury (CAN) each holding the respective ladies’ and men’s moguls and freestyle overall crystal globe.
The story leading up to Friday’s competition had focused on the two-horse races at the top of both the men’s and ladies’ moguls leader boards, as the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games gold medallists – Justine Dufour-Lapointe (CAN) and Bilodeau (CAN) – tried to play catch-up in the race for the crystal globe.
The two they were trying to catch at the top were the two most dominant skiers in freestyle over the past several seasons – Kearney (USA) and Kingsbury (CAN). However, in 2013-14, both Kearney and Kingsbury had faced the toughest competition in recent memory, and the fate of each athletes’ reign on Friday night was anything but assured.
Kearney went into La Plagne with only a five point lead over Dufour-Lapointe, meaning that the only way she would hold on to her globes would be to finish above the young Canadian. For Kingsbury, his 31 point cushion meant that he had some breathing room, but would still have to finish at worst one spot behind Bilodeau to three-peat as World Cup champion.
As it turned out, both of those outcomes would come true in dramatic – if far different – fashion.
On the ladies’ side, the most shocking moment of the night came when Justine Dufour-Lapointe crashed just after the first jump in her first heat of the finals. After what appeared to be a clean landing to her initial air, the typically unflappable 19-year-old lost her rhythm in the bumps and fell heavily onto her side.
One result of Justine’s crash was that 15 year old moguls “Rookie of the Year” Perrine Laffont (FRA) was able to advance to the quarter finals, thrilling the French crowd. The other result was that Hannah Kearney was assured of her trophies before even dropping in for the semi finals.
In the super final, Kearney was matched up against middle Dufour-Lapointe sister Chloe, the reigning dual moguls world champion. However, with Kearney skiing flawlessly through the competition on Friday, Chloe’s work was cut out for her, and she would have to settle for second place on the day and third place on the season after Kearney laid down a flawless super final run.
“I skied my own run today. I skied cleanly and aggressively and I was rewarded,” Kearney said, holding both her globes, “It was wonderful day. These globes were up for grabs. It takes a lot of luck and a lot of energy to win these globes – and a lot of training.
“I had a season that was up-and-down. The Olympics was somewhat heartbreaking for me, but I’m glad that I was able to persevere.”
While the ladies’ event saw the top contender drop out early, the men’s competition saw number one and two in the world matched up head-to-head for a run that would be the last of Bilodeau’s career and the final passing of the torch to the phenomenal Kingsbury.
Both Kingsbury and Bilodeau were rewarded on their way to the super final for clean skiing and exceptional jumping despite being often beaten across the line by a list of competitors clearly amped up by the thousands of spectators on hand at the stunning La Plagne venue.
As noted, Kingsbury assured himself of his third-straight moguls and overall crystal globes just by being in the finals with Bilodeau. However, while the two skiers are teammates and friends, they’re also both fierce competitors, and both attacked the course ferociously in their super final runs.
While Kingsbury crossed the line first, it was really a coin flip as to who would take the heat. In the end, the judges awarded the contest to Bilodeau, and the winningest moguls skier in Canadian history was able to say goodbye to his skiing career from the top of the podium.
“It’s amazing,” Bilodeau said of winning his last race before retirement, “The first race of my career was in France and so was the last race and I’m really happy to finish on a good note.
“That was probably the last time I’m ever going to be that quick of a skier or jump that big,” he went on, as emotions nearly got the better of him, “But it’s been a great career. Mikael is going to be a legend in our sport and it’s been an honour to compete head-to-head with him. He’s gonna fly by himself now and he’s going to beat all the records. He’s an amazing kid.”
Kingsbury was quietly composed in the awards area as he looked back upon the day’s results.
“It was a big one. I had a lot of pressure today,” he said following awards, “I just wanted to get to the final. I had some tough duals and it was pretty tight, but as soon as I heard I won against Bradley (Wilson, USA), the pressure dropped. And then I skied my best dual against Alex in the final, but I’m happy that he won. It was an honour for me to ski his last run with him.
“I needed Alex and he needed me this year,” he then said, echoing the sentiments of his teammate, “We made each other better.”
Third place on the day went to Ben Cavet (FRA), who lead an all-around impressive French performance with some of the fastest, most aggressive heats of the day. The podium was the first of the 20-year-old’s career, and doing it as he did – in a pressure situation, in front of a massive hometown crowd, against the best moguls skiers in the world – suggests clearly that it will not be his last.
Patrick Deneen (USA) finished ninth on the day, but was still able to claim third place on the 2013/14 season and the moguls World Cup overall bronze medal for the second straight year.