Rachel Thompson

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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Cathy Freeman’s gold medal milestone echoes 20 years later


As Cathy Freeman powered around the track at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australia held a collective breath.

Twenty-seven-year-old Freeman – with long, elegant strides that made running look almost effortless – carried more pressure than any other athlete at those Games as she ran the 400m final.

But pressure, the kind that could have caused another athlete to buckle, only seemed to spur Freeman. Twenty years ago today, she became Australia’s first Aboriginal athlete to win an individual Olympic gold medal.

“My running has allowed me to walk in a light, to be in a light, to live in a light that comes from within. It’s carried me to these places that I never thought imaginable,” Freeman said in an ABC Australia documentary called “Freeman” released this month in commemoration of the anniversary. She was unavailable to comment for this story.

Freeman was born in Mackay, a city in Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef. She grew up in a tight-knit family, one of five children. Her paternal great-grandfather served in World War I, but because of his Aboriginal heritage, his military service was not recognized when he returned home. He was not offered a land grant given to white soldiers. Her maternal great-grandfather was sent to a penal colony on Palm Island with his wife and children after refusing to sign over his paycheck to local authorities.

“I was a kid who was quite embarrassed to be a Black kid, an Indigenous kid. I grew up with that self-image,” she said in “Freeman.” “I could never understand why, when I smiled at someone, they wouldn’t smile back. … It used to quietly really devastate me.”

Her stepfather, Bruce, encouraged Freeman to run as a child, and to harbor big dreams.

“To put up on the wall, ‘I am the greatest athlete,’” she told ABC.

At 16, Freeman became the first Aboriginal woman to win a Commonwealth Games title as part of a 4x100m relay in Auckland, New Zealand. She made her Olympic debut in 1992, eliminated in the 400m quarterfinals.

Before leaving for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia, Freeman packed an Aboriginal flag in her suitcase. The black, yellow and red flag, first flown on National Aborigines Day in 1971, represents the Aboriginal people, the sun and spiritual connection to the land.

After winning the 400m, Freeman wrapped herself in the Aboriginal flag before taking the Australian flag and bringing both around the track in a victory lap. Arthur Tunstall, the head of the Australian delegation, was outraged.

But Freeman was undeterred, carrying both flags again after winning the 200m.

“I wanted to shout, ‘Look at me. Look at my skin. I’m Black, and I’m the best,’” Freeman told ABC. “There’s no more shame.”

The gesture ignited national debate, shining light on the racism and repression Indigenous Australians faced at home.

“There’s this mural in Melbourne with traditional Aboriginal people with chains around their necks, being treated like animals,” Freeman told ABC. “I draw strength from those sorts of paintings, which is pretty much what the flag represents, all the struggles, I suppose, and hardships my people have had to deal with.”

Freeman won a silver medal in the 400m at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, beaten by France’s Marie-Jose Perec, the defending champion from 1992.

A few weeks after the Olympics, Freeman topped Perec at a meet in Brussels. Perec focused on the 200m the following year and was out with health issues in 1998, while Freeman won back-to-back world titles in 1997 and 1999 in her absence. Going into the Sydney Olympics, the two hadn’t raced each other in four years.

Freeman made no effort to conceal the fact that Perec was a major source of motivation.

“It was always her in the front of my mind and the front of my heart that made me do the things I did – training the way I did, aspiring the way I did, and dreaming the way I did,” Freeman told ABC.

Perec was entered in the 400m in Sydney but left the city under mysterious circumstances before her race. Perec, according to a New York Times story at the time, vented her frustrations about the Australian media.

“I have the impression that everything has been made up in order to destabilize me,” she said.

One front-page headline read “Mademoiselle La Chicken: Perec flees before facing Cathy.”

“My heart dropped,” Freeman told ABC of Perec leaving Sydney. “My heart drops still now. I knew that I was up for it. She knew it, and I knew it, but we’ll never know because it didn’t happen. That race will never happen.”

Freeman, meanwhile, faced relentless pressure leading up to the 400m final. Newspaper headlines read, “The single gold all Australia craves” and “Running for her country, her people, herself.”

Freeman’s friend Michael Johnson – a four-time Olympic gold medalist who won the 200m-400m double four years earlier in Atlanta – understood the weight and importance of performing at a home Olympics.

“I sort of lived that moment with her, because it was four years after I was the face of the Games in Atlanta in a home Games,” Johnson said in August. “It was her time four years later in Sydney. We talked a lot in the lead-up to that and I tried to advise her as much as I could of how to deal with that pressure.”

On Sept. 15, Freeman lit the Olympic cauldron to open the Sydney Games. Ten days later, after easing off her warm-up clothes to reveal a sleek Nike body suit, she settled into her blocks for the most anticipated event of the Games.

Her coach, Peter Fortune, had jotted down a race plan on a piece of paper, with notes like “fast start for 50m,” “move from very fast to fast relaxed to the 200m,” “pick up on bend a little to make sure of your position,” and “go hard from about 120 to go and hold form to finish line.”

Johnson was at Stadium Australia that night waiting for his own 400m final, which would take place just after the women’s event. Instead of waiting in the call room, he left to go into the stadium, beneath the stands, so he could watch Freeman race. His seven competitors followed.

“We all just stood there,” Johnson said. “We’re fierce rivals, and we stood there to watch that race because it was just that intriguing. You could hear the crowd, and everybody knew that this was the race that everybody wanted to see, and we wanted to see it, too.”

In the noise of more than 112,000 spectators, Freeman found quiet.

“I remember in my warm-up feeling really relaxed, and all of the sudden the words, ‘just do what I know,’ came into my head,” Freeman recalled to NBC on The Olympic Show a year after the Games. “And so, that was that. I went out and did what I knew.”

Freeman trailed off the start, careful not to overexert herself too early. She closed in on the last curve and powered ahead on the final stretch, crossing the line at 49.11.

When she looks back on the race, “I feel like I’m being protected. My ancestors were the first people to walk on this land. It’s a really powerful force. Those other girls were always going to have to come up against my ancestors,” she told ABC.

Fiercely competitive with herself, Freeman was disappointed by her time. She knew she could run under 49 seconds. But her win remains one of the most significant moments of the Games, and the image of Freeman circling the track in a barefoot victory lap with the Aboriginal and Australian flags is indelible.

“The power of the emotion of everybody that night was just amazing,” Freeman told NBC on The Olympic Show. “Maybe some massive cosmic explosion took place in that stadium. … It was something I don’t think I’ll ever, ever experience again.”

That night at the track, later called “Magic Monday,” would go down as one of the most memorable in Olympic history.

After Freeman’s victory, Johnson became the first man to win consecutive 400m titles. American Stacy Dragila won the first Olympic women’s pole vault competition, topping Russian-born Australian Tatiana Grigorieva. Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards, the world record holder in the triple jump, won a long awaited gold medal in his fourth Games. The men’s 10,000m came down to a head-to-head sprint in the last 100 meters, as Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie edged Kenyan Paul Tergat by .09 of a second after 25 laps around the track.

Freeman, who initially targeted the next Olympics in Athens, ultimately retired in 2003, citing a lack of passion and motivation to continue running at the highest level.

Her influence and legacy stretched far beyond the track, continuing to resonate with those who hoped to follow her lead.

On Sept. 25, 2000, 12-year-old Patty Mills sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV, his stuffed Sydney mascots and the Aboriginal flag on display. Mills and his mother had decorated the room in the Australian colors.

Years before he became the first Indigenous Australian to win an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs, before representing Australia as an Olympian himself, Mills readied for Freeman’s race like it was his own.

He doesn’t remember much of the race – “maybe because I was screaming my face off trying to push her along” – but he does recall happy tears that followed as he watched with his parents.

“What Cathy never knew at that moment was that there was a little 12-year-old boy … that was so inspired that he was fully committed to becoming just like her,” Mills wrote in an email. “I was inspired by the way she represented herself and her culture. She was clearly very proud of who she was and never ashamed of it and because of this, I was inspired by the way she handled adversity.”

Freeman, now 47, is still amazed by the legacy of her triumph 20 years ago.

“People still light up when they talk about that night in September. They sparkle, and we’re talking about something that happened so long ago,” she told ABC.

“The lovely thing about this particular story is a lot of people were involved in it.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

MORE: How Cathy Freeman came to light the Olympic cauldron

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Wilma Rudolph, once told she would not walk, became the world’s fastest woman 60 years ago

Wilma Rudolph
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Few could have predicted that a child battling polio would one day win three Olympic gold medals on the track.

Once burdened by a leg brace and told she might never walk again, Wilma Rudolph won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at the 1960 Rome Olympics as the first American woman win three track and field gold medals a single Games.

Rudolph would become one of the most beloved figures in Olympic history and inspire generations of athletes with her speed, grace and story of perseverance. She completed her gold medal hat trick 60 years ago today as part of a 4x100m relay.

Born prematurely in Clarksville, Tennessee, Rudolph was the 20th of 22 children. During childhood, she fought pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio, which temporarily paralyzed her left leg and required her to wear a brace. Rudolph and her mother drove back and forth to Nashville – about 50 miles each way – so she could receive treatment. In between, her family members took turns massaging her leg.

“My doctor told me I would never walk again,” Rudolph wrote in her autobiography. “My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”

Rudolph progressed from the leg brace to an orthopedic shoe until she could walk unassisted. Soon, she took to sports, joining her school’s basketball team as a teenager.

She caught the attention of Ed Temple, coach of the Tigerbelles track team at Tennessee State, while he refereed a game in Clarksville. Temple invited Rudolph to attend his summer camp. She went to her first Olympics in 1956 at age 16, when she won a bronze medal in the 4x100m.

Four years later in Rome, Rudolph tied the world record of 11.3 seconds in the 100m semifinals, then easily won the final in 11.0 seconds (too much tailwind prevented it from being a world record). Three days later, she won the 200m. But Rudolph’s final race may have been the most important to her.

“The race that I think that she wanted more than anything else was the 4x100m relay,” Ed Temple told NBC Sports on “The Olympic Show” leading up to the 2000 Sydney Games. “And that was because her teammates had been in the 100m and the 200m, and they didn’t win any medals. And she was determined that they were gonna win a gold medal.”

On Sept. 8, 1960, a team made up entirely of Tennessee State Tigerbelles won the 4x100m, with Rudolph as the anchor. That completed her gold-medal sweep in Rome.

Known for her graciousness and charming demeanor, she became an international star.

“Mr. Temple would always say that she was a person that never met a stranger,” Wyomia Tyus, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and one of Rudolph’s Tigerbelles teammates, said in a recent telephone interview.

Rudolph retired in 1962. Among her post-track pursuits, she taught second grade and later became a track coach at DePauw University in Indiana. But Rudolph admitted in her autobiography “Wilma” that life as an Olympic champion wasn’t what many expected it to be.

“I was besieged with money problems,” she wrote. “People were always expecting me to be a star, but I wasn’t making the money to live like one. I felt exploited both as a woman and as a Black person.”

In 1980, Tennessee State named its indoor track in her honor. She was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, Black Athletes Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Rudolph moved back to her home state in 1992, becoming a vice president for Nashville’s Baptist Hospital. Two years later, she was diagnosed with brain and throat cancer. She died on Nov. 12, 1994, at age 54.

Her legacy continues to stir inspiration on and off the track.

“She had a grace of her own,” Rudolph’s Rome relay teammate Lucinda Williams said on “The Olympic Show.” “She carried with her the pride and the joy, the pain, the heartaches of being a female athlete.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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