Owens Leads U.S. in Moguls FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships
Monday, March 8 marked the first day of competition at the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with Kai Owens leading the standings for the U.S. moguls crew. The 16-year-old landed in 6th position coming into the super final and decided to give it all she had to make a big impression during her first World Championships.
“Making super finals feels really cool, it boosts my confidence for sure,” said Owens. “When I started up on World Cup, I tried hard not to compare myself to the other women. I want to see what I can do, results are kind of an afterthought and back up my plan and reassure me that I'm improving as an athlete. It is nice to have results and hang with everybody but I’m still just trying to go out there and be the best skier I can be.”
In the super final, Owens went a little too big off of the top air, which caused her some issues in the middle section of the course. She skied out, which guaranteed her a 6th place finish overall. Knowing this, Owens kept at it and chose to throw a cork 7 mute grab off the bottom air. Had she not DNF’d, it would have marked the first time a woman has thrown that trick in elite-level competition.
“I was tired and bummed, but another rep is always good practice,” reflected Owens. “Judges are still looking and watching. I also was like ‘if I’m throwing, I’m throwing it no matter what’, so I decided to still go for it.”
Her teammates Jaelin Kauf, Hannah Soar, and Tess Johnson qualified in solid positions coming into the small final, but the competition came to play. Kauf suffered a series of small mistakes out of the top air that cost her. Soar skied fast and went big, but landed left and positioned herself right in front of a mogul, resulting in a large deduction. Johnson skied clean but juxtaposed to the rest of the field, her run was not enough to pull through to the super final. The trio ended the day 8th, 10th, and 11th respectively.
A similar story of small mistakes and tough competition rang true on the men’s side. Young gun Nick Page had a solid showing in qualifications, but a big mistake at the bottom air during finals led to a crash in his first-ever World Championships. Veterans Bradley Wilson and Dylan Walczyk were able to keep the nerves calm and qualify for the first final, but had trouble exiting the jumps and couldn’t quite qualify for the super final. Walczyk finished the day in 10th, followed by Wilson in 13th, Page in 18th, and Alex Lewis in 35th. Lewis did not qualify for finals in his first World Championship appearance.
Head coach Matt Gnoza noted that the team came into qualifying with a solid game plan, but given the performance from the rest of the field on Monday, their effort just was not enough in comparison. Competition like podium finishers, Canada's Mikael Kingsbury in first, France's Benjamin Cavet in second, and Kazakhstan's Pavel Kolmakov on the men’s side, and France's Perrine Laffont in first, Kazakhstan's Yuliya Galysheva in second, and Russia's Anastasiia Smirnova in third on the women’s showed the team what they’re up against headed into an Olympic year.
“We are really starting to see what we can expect in 2022,” said Gnoza. “World Championships right before an Olympic year is always a great event to gauge where you are as an athlete and a team. We know we’ve got the players that can get the medals. We can learn from our experiences and move forward.”
The competition continues on Tuesday, March 9, with men’s and women’s dual moguls, another shot for the athletes to compete for World Championship medals.
“Looking to tomorrow’s duals, this team usually bounces back from adversity pretty well,” commented Gnoza. “We’ve seen this before from this group. We will regroup tonight and get back up there tomorrow.”
HOW TO WATCH:
All times EST
Tuesday, March 9th - 4:00 AM - Dual Moguls, Almaty, Kazakhstan - Olympic Channel, OC 24/7 Livestreaming, Peacock TV