Johnson: Welcome to moguls where you can go from gold to old really quickly
Vancouver star Bilodeau has already given way to superstar Kingsbury at the ripe ol’ age of 25
The doddering geriatric, able, somehow, to stand on his own power without the aid of a walker isn’t oblivious to his new-found senior-citizen status. Not that he catches himself consciously checking restaurant menus for advanced-age buffet discounts just yet, understand.
“I went,” muses Alexandre Bilodeau, “from 2010 and (being) the youngest, to the oldest.
“In one year.”
Yup. Life certainly does tend to hit that slippery slope when you’re ... 25.
“I do feel like ‘the old guy’,” laughs the defending Olympic champ in men’s freestyle skiing moguls. “And I am, you know. The oldest. But that’s a good sign for Canada. These guys have so many years in front of them. I think they’ll get experience (in Sochi, Russia 2014) and drive it all the way to Korea. Hopefully, then there’ll be some more kids come along that’ll push them.
“That’s the evolution of sport.
“Yeah, I feel old. But I know In my mind I’m not THAT old.”
Standing only a few feet away, Mikael Kingsbury, the new guy, the bright young thing of men’s moguls, is fielding questions about the lone moguls World Cup stop in this country, at Canada Olympic Park on Saturday.
They make a decidedly dynamic pair with Sochi approaching, barely more than a calendar year away: Bilodeau, heading into his third and final Olympics, Kingsbury zoning in on his first of what will doubtless be many.
After laying claim to gold in Vancouver, Bilodeau planned on quitting following last season but the idea of one more try at the five-ring circus, the Star Trekkian prospect of bolding going where no man has gone before, proved just too enticing.
“I was like ‘Will I regret it? Will I regret not trying to defend my medal?’ Jenn (Heil) tried and she ended up second. Dale Begg-Smith tried, was second. Janne Lahtela tried. Second. There’s so many examples of first and second. Kari Traa. Nobody did it.
“So I think it’s a great challenge. I’m not saying I will. I’m saying I’ve got the potential. That’s why I’m here. And I’ll do everything I can.
“What if? What if? I don’t want to leave with the ‘What if ...?’ I know after Sochi I’ll retire. I know I have a huge challenge in front of me for a professional career that’s waiting. I’m ready for that. I’m looking forward to being as good outside of my skis as I was on them.”
The 20-year-old Kingsbury’s thoughts are, naturally, far, far from a competitive after-life. The FIS moguls champ at 19, he won a record-tying six races in a row — No. 5 of that string coming here, at COP — to start last season and is currently riding the crest of a confounding 17-straight run of podium placings. He doesn’t, he insists, sit up nights calculating how far this streak could possibly go, though.
“No, no, no, no. I’m not thinking too much long-term. I’m just thinking about the next race. I’m not thinking about winning. I’m thinking about skiing my best. And when I do that, I know I can win. Maybe that’s why I have good results. I’m never on top thinking ‘I’ve got to win. I’ve got to win ...’ Never.
“At the top, I think about skiing the best run I can and after I cross the line I’m going to look at the board and wait for the score and if I win I’ll be the happiest guy on earth.”
Needless to say, he’s been one chipper fella the last year or so. And the key, Kinsbury confides, is in his ability to chill out while others might be popping a blood vessel or two.
“I guess I’m very calm before my run. I’m not the kind of guy who gets super stressed, super excited. There’s some people who are always moving, very nervous before they race. They go to the washroom every two minutes. I’m just sitting and watching the little TV on top, every racer, having good times and relaxing. When it’s my turn, I know I’m ready.”
Having a corps of successful teammates, including fellow Quebecer Bilodeau, on site to study, to emulate, has been of inestimable help in the new prodigy’s fast-tracking up the international pecking order.
“I’m lucky,” admits Kingsbury. “When I was younger, he was there, a good model for me. He helped me to reach the podium young. To have him with me, also with the other guys when I joined the team, Pierre Alexandre-Rousseau, Maxime Gingras, the guys at the Olympic camp, was great.
“They helped me a lot to gain maturity very young. I was there at 16 years old and they were all in their 20s. One guy was 30.”
Thirty?! As ancient as that?!
“Hey,” protested Kinsbury, “when you’re 16 and you’re coming up to the big team ...
“I’m young to have a lot of success, but it’s been my passion since I was young. I didn’t think at 20 I’d be where I’m at, but I put so much effort in it, this is where I want to be. When you reach the top you want to stay there. I’m working to stay there. Since last year I have the yellow bib as the World Cup leader so ... it’s going well.”
Yes, Bilodeau and Kingsbury do make a decidedly dynamic pair with Sochi approaching, barely more than a calendar year away.
By 2018, Pyeongchang, South Korea and the XXII Winter Olympic Games, naturally, the dynamics will have seismically shifted.
“There’s no way in hell I’m going to Korea,” teased Bilodeau. “I wish those guys the best of luck. I’ll be there cheering them on.
“Hopefully I’ll be there commentating.”
Kingsbury, today’s new guy, will be the one of the ‘old guys’ by then. At the over-ripe age of 24.
That, as a mogul master once noted, is the evolution of sport.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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