PREVIEW: Moguls squad start Freestyle Skiing campaign
6 February 2014
FREESTYLE – MOGULS: Australia’s Freestyle Skiing campaign kicks into action on Thursday night in Sochi with the start of the women’s Moguls qualification round.
Teenagers Britt Cox and Taylah O’Neill and 21-year-old Nicole Parks will be among the first group of Australians in action at the Sochi Games, a day before the official Opening Ceremony.
Australia’s hopes in the men’s Moguls – Matt Graham, Dale Begg-Smith, Brodie Summers and Sam Hall - will have to wait until next Monday to taste 2014 Olympic action.
On Thursday, women’s qualification session 1, the top 10 points scorers in a field of 30 will advance to the first of three finals on Saturday night, and get to miss one round of qualifying. The remaining 20 athletes will face the judges on Saturday evening, with the top 10 points scorers in that group also moving through to the first final of 20 athletes a few hours later.
The first final will reduce the field down to 12 for the second final. Then the competition reaches a crescendo late on Saturday night in Sochi with the top six battling it out in the medal determining super-final.
The men’s competition throughout qualifying and the finals, will mirror the women’s rounds, with the qualification sessions and finals all on Monday February 10. It is a gruelling program which benefits the top 10 in qualification who get to sit out a round of bumps and jumps.
Using world rankings as a guide, Australia’s brightest prospects rest with Cox in the women’s and Graham in the men’s, who are ranked eighth and 10th in the world.
Cox, who was the youngest athlete competing at the 2010 Vancouver Games, arrived in Sochi for her second Olympics, more experienced and better equipped physically, thanks to conditioning work that has improved her speed. With two World Cup podiums to her credit, she is expected to press for a place deep into the competition.
Parks, who recorded a career best finish in January of 11th at two World Cups, and O’Neill are also both capable of making the finals.
The number one threat to the Australian women in the event is no doubt Hannah Kearney of the USA. Kearney has dominated women's moguls since she won gold in Vancouver four years ago and is the heavy favourite to become the first ever freestyle athlete to defend a gold medal in Sochi.
Since the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, Kearney has been on the podium 39 times, winning an amazing 32 World Cup events.
The Dufour-Lapointe sisters from Quebec, Canada, Maxime, Chloe and Justine, have all been selected to represent Canada, which is a record for the most family members to compete in Sochi.
With rankings of two, four and five in the world, a Dufour-Lapointe family sweep of the podium may very well be possible.
Other skiers to watch include Miki Ito and Aiko Uemura of Japan and Yulia Galysheva of the Ukraine.
In the men's for Australia, Graham has made significant progress in the last 12 months, and in the first World Cup of the season, he was fourth, unlucky not to pick up the bronze.
Summers and Hall are also expected to do Australia proud. Summers has improved his results in each of his four events in January, recording a World Cup PB of 12th. Hall showed his potential by finishing sixth in last year’s World Championships.
One of the biggest interest points in the men’s competition will be Australia’s Dale Begg-Smith. Begg-Smith already has a gold and silver medal from 2006 and 2010, thanks largely to his signature silky-smooth turns. The unknown factor is whether he can recapture this form, given that he returned to international skiing only last December after three years out of competition.
Begg-Smith has declared this week that Sochi will be his last hurrah and has promised that nothing will be left on the hill in his quest for a fairytale ending to a brilliant career. Begg-Smith who was born in Canada will find his main rivals coming from Canada. Mikael Kingsbury and Alexandre Bilodeau have been fighting for dominance since Begg-Smith took a break post Vancouver. In fact it was Bilodeau who pipped him for gold in 2010. More here>>>
Head Coach Steve Desovich is upbeat about his team’s chances and has continued a pre-Olympics plan that has been used in the lead up to the last three Games, going back to 2006. Despite all the hype and media focus on any Olympics, Desovich believes that the Games should be treated just like any other event, if that is possible.
How he keeps the abnormally spectacular Olympics “normal” is his challenge and he is constantly focused on taking away the threat of mental fatigue among his athletes.
“That’s what you do by the book,” Desovich said. “Set up an environment that is familiar. In terms of big picture stuff for the Olympics, you want to keep things as normal as possible. You don’t want to introduce any new things at this point, strategies, techniques, skills.
“You build up what you have and you try to get to the Games and do what you can do.”
Like any moguls event, the conditions and the course design will play a big part in the outcome.
“The course is tough,” Desovich declared. “We came here for the test events 12 months ago and the conditions were different.
“It was warm, slushy and mild. Now we have a full winter environment so the course is a lot tougher than I remember and there are different features on the course that are tougher.
“Going in to the last jumps, the moguls for instance are very close to the jumps whereas traditionally, it is a little offset.
“It’s making jumping more difficult. It’s definitely a skier’s type of course. It’s good for Dale. I don’t know yet if it is good for the other guys. We’ll wait and see.”