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Sports Mikaël Kingsbury heads strong Quebec contingent of freestyle skiers going to Olympics

08:20  25 january  2022
08:20  25 january  2022 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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It has been 20 years since Mikaël Kingsbury, at age 9, watched the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, pinned a photo of the five rings on his bedroom wall and vowed he would become a gold medallist.

  Mikaël Kingsbury heads strong Quebec contingent of freestyle skiers going to Olympics © Provided by The Gazette

Those words proved prophetic when the most dominant freestyle skier in the sport’s history stood atop the podium at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. And as he prepares for the coming Beijing Olympics early next month, the 29-year-old from Deux-Montagnes believes he’s destined for more greatness.

“Winning never gets boring, (because) every win and performance is different,” Kingsbury said Monday during a video conference after Canada’s 24-member Olympic freestyle team was announced. “The Olympics isn’t something that comes often. I feel like I’ve had a super long career. It’s my third Olympics but for me, it’s just another opportunity to perform well.

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“I feel I’m stronger and better than I’ve been the last two Olympics.”

Kingsbury, who is a heavy, heavy favourite for a medal, heads the largest contingent of freestyle skiers representing Canada since the sport made its Games debut in 1992 at Albertville, France. And to say that Canada has dominated the sport would be an understatement. Canadians have captured 25 Olympic medals — including 12 gold — the most of any country.

“It’s always been one of the greatest accomplishments for a Canadian athlete in freestyle skiing to make the team and make it to the Games,” said Peter Judge, Freestyle Canada’s chief executive officer. “Making the Canadian team’s a very difficult road. It’s certainly true in this time frame. Even more so given all the circumstances we’ve had to deal with (due to COVID-19 ).

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“I’m extremely proud of this group for their tenacity, perseverance and for what they’ve been able to deal with and still stay buoyant, focused and be as well prepared as we can be.”

Kingsbury heads to China not only as the reigning Olympic champ, but fresh off his 101st World Cup podium finish along with his 70th victory on the circuit. In the process, he has overtaken Alexandre Bilodeau , Canada’s two-time Olympic moguls champion.

“Coming into the Games, it’s great to be the favourite,” Kingsbury said. “This year that was one of my goals. It’s always nice to be hunted. I always try to continue hunting even though the people are hunting me. It’s great to have a target on your back. You can’t look behind.”

Kingsbury, who won silver at the 2014 Sochi Games, said he’s been working with a mental performance coach to handle any anxiety he might encounter although, given his maturity and experience, the stress level has diminished over the years. While there undoubtedly will be pressure placed on Kingsbury, he believes he’s prepared to handle all obstacles.

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“I promised myself, when I’m at the Games, I don’t have to be nervous anymore with this sport,” he explained. “But I’m human. Some competitions are more stressful than others. Obviously, the Games are a bit more stressful. I have way more experience than in the past. I’m more excited than nervous.

“I’ve won at the Olympics. I don’t feel I have to defend my gold medal. I’ll be an Olympic champion for the rest of my life. I like the position I’m in right now. I don’t think I have to put extra pressure on myself. I know how to win.”

Kingsbury leads a strong Quebec contingent that includes Montreal sisters Chloé and Justine Dufour-Lapointe . Not only will this be their third successive Games together, Chloé will make history as the first female Canadian freestyle skier to compete in four Winter Olympics.

“It was a relief, but also a source of great pride,” Chloé said Monday upon learning of her nomination.

The 30-year-old won a silver in moguls in 2014 while Justine, 27, captured gold in 2014 and silver four years later. The eldest of the sisters, 32-year-old Maxime, won’t be competing but will travel to China as a mentor and cheerleader.

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“We’re very united,” Chloé said. “In our family we celebrate every victory. This was a big celebration for us. The three of us are going there again, but in a different way. We’re all equally happy.”

In preparation for Beijing, the Canadian athletes have been training in isolation at the Apex Mountain Ski Resort in Penticton, B.C. They were selected based on their performances throughout the last two seasons. Priority was given to athletes who won multiple medals at targeted events. Beijing will mark the Olympic debut for 15 of Canada’s freestyle skiers.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

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