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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