American mogulists miss podium
The story almost wrote itself. American Jaelin Kauf, competing in just her third moguls World Cup, qualified in the top position for Thursday night’s women’s superfinal at Deer Valley.
In front of a large Park City crowd, Kauf sped down the Champion course for her final run of the night. On the second of two jumps, she nearly fell, but managed to hold strong and avoid touching the ground with her back or her hands.
The crowd erupted, sensing a podium finish, but the judges disagreed. Of the six skiers in the superfinal, they placed Kauf sixth, prompting a chorus of boos from the disappointed fans.
Kauf didn’t have much to say after her career-best finish, but said the bottom air might have been where the judges docked her points.
"It felt good until the bottom air," she said. "I just kind of tucked in a little bit and went a little big."
Canadian Justine Dufour-Lapointe won the gold medal for the women, with Yulia Galysheva of Kazakhstan taking second and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe of Canada finishing third.
On the men’s side, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Canadian Mikael Kingsbury would win the gold medal. After all, he’d won the last four moguls events at Deer Valley and also snagged a gold in dual moguls last year.
He qualified first for the six-man superfinal, making victory seem inevitable. However, racing one spot ahead of Kingsbury was Australian Matt Graham, who turned in one of the best runs of the night to pull off the upset and take first place. Kingsbury finished second and Sweden’s Ludvig Fjallstrom took third.
Graham said he was thrilled to be able to finally defeat Kingsbury after finishing second to him three times in his career. It was Graham’s first World Cup gold medal.
"I’ve been in that position a few times and every time he’s always kind of got me and beaten me," he said. "To see his score just a little bit below mine, it’s an awesome feeling. I’ve been waiting and really, really hoping to get on that top podium step for a while, so yeah, I’m just really satisfied."
Graham acknowledged that he has a lot of improving to do to be able to consistently beat Kingsbury, who has won more World Cup moguls events than any other man in history.
"He’s the top guy," Graham said. "He’s dominated the sport for the last four or five years. To see myself kind of creeping my way up and getting closer, that’s always nice. I’m really working hard in training and off-snow as well and I think it’s really paying off. I feel like I’m closing the gap, but there’s still a long way to go."
As far as celebrating his first-ever win, Graham said the party would have to wait.
"We’ve got another event coming up Saturday, so I’ll just go home and try to get a good night’s sleep," he said. "We’ve got training [Friday]. I’ll save the celebrating maybe for Saturday night."
Both Kauf and Graham are excited to get back on the moguls course for Saturday night’s dual moguls contest. They said the Champion run is as nice as they’ve ever seen it.
"The course is really nice," Kauf said. "It’s sweet. It’s really soft right now."
"This is an awesome course and a great event, definitely the best event on tour," Graham added. "I’m super stoked."
Saturday’s dual mogul finals are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on the Champion run. Fireworks will follow the awards ceremony immediately after the finals.
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