Mikael Kingsbury, one of the world’s dominant athletes, hits bump in moguls career

Mikael Kingsbury
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For a span of 10 years, Canadian moguls skier Mikael Kingsbury did not miss a World Cup event.

In that time, he became one of the most dominant athletes in any sport.

He won 63 times in 109 World Cup starts and finished on the podium 91 times. He’s tallied more World Cup wins than any other moguls skier (U.S. Olympic gold medalists Hannah Kearney and Donna Weinbrecht are next on the list with 46 each).

A four-time world champion (two each in moguls and dual moguls) and reigning Olympic champion, Kingsbury was ready to chase a 10th straight Crystal Globe this fall and winter. The award is given at season’s end to the top athlete on the World Cup tour, one for moguls and one combining all freestyle skiing disciplines.

But in early December, while the world’s best moguls skiers competed under the lights in Ruka, Finland at the first World Cup event, Kingsbury sat in an unfamiliar place: on the couch at his cabin in Quebec.

He had fractured the T4 and T5 vertebrae in his back while landing a jump in training in Finland. The injury is expected to require about six weeks of recovery. So, for the first time since 2010, Kingsbury was absent.

He was upbeat in an interview from home, though he admitted missing an event at his favorite course in Ruka – where he’s won eight times in 10 World Cup starts – was not ideal.

“It wasn’t fun to be sitting on my couch and looking at the guys ski,” he said.

Injuries are common in moguls, a punishing event involving sharp turns, aerial tricks and high speeds. Kingsbury was spared up to age 28, never missing a start due to injury. He once almost missed a World Cup event because he was sick.

“But I ended up winning,” he said with a smile.

Earlier this year, with training and travel limitations in place, Kingsbury purchased home gym equipment. A vigorous workout routine put him in the best shape of his life going into the season.

“I’m glad I did train a lot this summer because [the injury] could have been way worse if I didn’t put that much muscle [on] my body,” he said.

Kingsbury’s statistics are mind bending. Thanks to his 91 top-three finishes, he has an eye-popping 83% podium rate on the World Cup circuit (Mikaela Shiffrin makes the World Cup podium 72% of the time in her best discipline of slalom).

He didn’t finish worse than second in 10 World Cup starts last season. One season earlier, he missed the podium only once. Kingsbury admitted the numbers are intriguing, even if they aren’t top-of-mind.

“I love statistic[s], I love looking at what the others have done in the past and what I’m doing,” he said. “But when I ski, I don’t ski for the stats, and I don’t ski thinking about numbers. … If I focus on the right thing, then every time I step into the start gate, I know I can win.”

When Kingsbury was 9, he printed the Olympic rings on a piece of paper. Below it, he wrote, “Je vais gagné” (I will win) and taped it to the ceiling above his bed to look at each night before he went to sleep. After Kingsbury won gold in PyeongChang, his brother amended the sign to read, “Tu as gagné” (you won).

The joy of moguls hasn’t faded.

“What I love about this sport is still the same as when I was 10 years old,” he said. “There’s no perfection, so you can always improve. … Every day you wake up, and you can have a new goal, a new challenge.

“A lot of people are asking me, you must be bored of winning or being on the podium, but not really. Because the story and the strategy behind every win is so different than the week before.”

Kingsbury checked all of the items off his career bucket list. But he would still like to match countryman Alexandre Bilodeau‘s feat of winning two Olympic moguls titles.

“I want to check them all again, if I can,” he said. “It’s just that the feeling of winning a Crystal Globe or a world championship or, at the peak, the Olympic Games … I love that feeling.”

Kingsbury also wants to keep honing his craft, fine-tuning the technical skills to hit a so-far unreached potential and push the sport to another level.

While he’s off the snow for a few weeks, he started riding a stationary bike at home, adjusting the handlebars to keep his back as straight as possible. He finished a 1,000-piece puzzle in two or three days. Next up: 1,500 pieces.

The injury puts him in an unfamiliar place: behind his competitors in points when he returns to the start gate after so many years of being chased.

“I don’t want to say [I’ll be] playing catch up, but yeah, it’s a different position for me right now,” he said. “So I’m going to try and learn from that experience. And I’ll be super motivated to heal and to do the right thing to be back.”

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”