Moguls Back in Action, Johnson Leads Americans
The U.S. Moguls Freestyle Ski Team is back in action after wrapping up competition at the FIS Open in IdreFjäll, Sweden, Nov. 21-22. It’s been eight months since American mogul skiers have been able to get back into a full course due to travel restrictions from COVID-19, and the team brought it full circle beginning their season in Sweden, where it abruptly ended in March earlier this year. These athletes usually clock about 30 days on a moguls course before the start of a season, but this year have only had eight, including the two days of competition.
“[Saturday] was the first day back out in the cold, standing and looking up at the hill since March and, wow,” reported Head Moguls Coach Matt Gnoza. “It felt like a minor miracle. [I woke up on Saturday] and could see the horizon and it was kind of cloudy but blue, and I thought, ‘Wow this is really going to happen.’ I reflected back on all of our COVD challenges, and it makes it more unreal. That we would have that limited amount of prep and this team would return to where all ended to get it started again - crazy absolutely crazy. Getting here was no easy task.”
Competing at the FIS Open provides a preseason opportunity to dust the cobwebs off before getting in the gates at the World Cup level. After being thwarted by Mother Nature the past couple of years, it was a relief for everyone to have the event go off, and the cherry on top in the results accomplished.
Tess Johnson led the Americans both days, podiuming in second on Saturday and first on Sunday. Saturday’s performance marked a pivotal moment in the 20-year-old’s career as she debuted a brand-new run, including a flip on the top air with a backflip iron cross and a never-been-done bottom air - a backflip venom grab.
“It’s been kind of weird the past eight months not skiing,” said Tess after Saturday’s event. “I felt a little displaced. So to get back in the start gate was a mix of nerves and excitement and a lot of fun. All of the training and work that I put in over the summer in water ramps was the reason I performed so well today.”
“The backflip venom grab, no other woman and no other mogul skier has done that before. It’s an opportunity to bring something new and the judges really liked it. I have competed a 360 to backflip since I was 13 years old. For seven years, the majority of my career, I competed that run. Today was the first day that I didn't compete a 360, and a lot of other women made that step as well. It speaks to how women's moguls skiing is progressing. I was impressed with courage and creativity and am happy to be a part of that.”
Tess shared the podium with France’s Perrine Laffont in first and Japan’s Yuki Kajiwara in third. Jaelin Kauf came in fourth, Sabrina Cass in sixth, Hannah Soar in ninth, Kasey Hogg in 10th and Avital Carrol in 15th.
“I’m very thankful that with everything going on, the U.S. Ski Team was able to provide us with sufficient training to be successful for this upcoming season,” reflected Sabrina. “We spent a ton of time ramping that definitely helped me improve my jumps, which has been my main goal. Since we’ve been on-snow, I’ve been working on different drills to continue to better my skiing. I’m super excited that I was able to put down two solid top-to-bottoms today and to be back on snow and competing!”
France claimed the top two spots for the men on Saturday, with Martin Suire in first and Ben Cavet in second. Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Reikherd rounded out the podium in third. Nick Page had a strong showing in 12th, Jesse Andringa placed 15th and Landon Wendler, in his first event as a U.S. Ski Team member, came in 16th.
Sunday’s event brought blue skies and prime conditions for the second day of competition. The women of the U.S. Moguls Team came out strong and showed us a preview of what they hope to accomplish on the World Cup level - a podium sweep. Tess Johnson earned the top spot, Jaelin Kauf came in second and Hannah Soar in third.
"I went into today aiming to improve upon the mistakes I made yesterday with the same aggressive, performance-oriented mentality," said Tess about Sunday's event. "This weekend’s results gives me tremendous confidence going into the first World Cups in December. My skiing and training all week is where my confidence is actually coming from, and I’m stoked to continue building on what I’ve learned here!"
“I think people took Saturday as either a positive note or learning experience and some made adjustments from Day One to Day Two, which was our design to this whole approach,” said Matt. “[Saturday wasn’t what each athlete necessarily hoped for] but it wasn't because of the skills they didn’t have, or tricks they needed to learn. They just needed to believe and perform. We had a bunch of athletes make some mental adjustments between Day One and Day Two and that made a huge difference.”
"I’m really stoked to get a result under my belt before the World Cup season starts and really great to do it with my teammates!!" said Jaelin on the sweep. "I’m happy to have another trick going, it needs more time and work on snow but it’s a start... we’ve had a very short time to prepare on snow and so this event was really just more numbers and training for my jumps. Still some time to get things where I want them before Ruka!"
"The podium was a nice start but I still have more to do before I’m back to 100%," explained Hannah. "It’s been a bit of a struggle to get back into skiing again, but it’s coming together. I’ve struggled with getting back to a good mental mindset but each day I’m getting closer! Moving forward I will use each training opportunity to be better, push myself to go bigger, and ski faster. Each day is another opportunity to improve."
The rest of the American women had another strong day with Kasey in sixth, Sabrina in seventh, Avital Carroll in 10th and Madison Hogg in 13th.
On the men’s side Sweden’s Ludvig Fjallstorm claimed first, Japan’s Taketo Nishizwaw came in second, and Switzerland's Marco Tade came in third. Alex Lewis led the American men with a fifth place, Nick Page came in 10th and Jesse Andringa came in 13th.
"I’m feeling happy about this result," said Alex. "It was a nice step forward from yesterday’s performance. The biggest difference was my mental attitude from Day One to Day Two. It was a more aggressive mindset and I know I have more to offer with some more difficult tricks to bring to competition."
Moguls kicks off their official season with the FIS World Cup Opener on Dec. 5. “Everything is charging forward, our plan is unfolding,” explained Matt. “The grass was green and the temperatures hadn’t dropped below freezing when we got here. Every day feels more and more like winter. We’re building into our season as the season is building, that’s our theme here. By the time December 5 comes around I expect it will be full on winter here in Scandinavia, and we will be rocking and rolling.”
“All of us are really grateful to get back in the gate and test things out before the real deal with Ruka with the World Cup Opener,” said Tess. “It was really nice for us to have the opportunity.
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