The U.S. Mogul Freestyle Ski Team started off their World Cup season hot in frigid Ruka, Finland, Saturday. Olivia Giaccio skied to a career-first World Cup victory, ending France’s Perrine Laffont’s singles moguls win streak since 2019. Giacco shared the podium with teammate Kai Owens in third place. Cole McDonald put the world on notice with a fifth-place finish in his World Cup debut.
“I wanted to perform well and consistently throughout the day and lay down my run the way I had been training,” said Giaccio. “I kept my focus tight to my process in each round.
“It’s been nearly five years since I was on the podium in World Cup. So even when I came down and knew I was on the podium, it was very emotional.
“This win came at a time when my coaches and support staff all around me believed in me, it’s a very crucial moment for my career. And to even be able to compete in the World Cup today, I am so thankful.”
Saturday’s competition was an Olympic-style qualification format: two rounds of qualification runs with the top eight from each advancing onto the final rounds. Giaccio qualified in first place for finals and kept that momentum going throughout the competition. She consistently executed her run package of a top back full to bottom cork 7 for high scores on her airs and skied fast and clean to keep her ahead of the deep women’s mogul field. Giaccio will wear the yellow leader’s bib heading into next week’s competitions, another first for the twenty-one-year-old.
“I’m really excited for the challenge of fighting for the yellow bib throughout the remainder of the season. [Wearing the yellow bib] is something I have always dreamed of and wanted to accomplish. It was really cool to put it on. There was a moment when they were doing the men’s podium that I was just staring down at it. It was a very surreal moment.”
After sustaining a season-ending injury in 2019, Giaccio has fought hard to come back to be at the top of her game. Her work ethic and grit pushes her to constantly improve and understand what little adjustments she can make to propel her into the top position.
“Olivia, from the start of the prep period, has been super focused and super determined,” said Head Mogul Coach Matt Gnoza. “She was always one of the first to warm up and jump and one of the last to leave the ramps. Her attention to detail on the little things are making a big difference. Yes, she would have a good jump, but then she wants to know what would make it better? She’d had a good section of turns and ask ‘How can I get faster?’ She got it all to click today, she trusted herself and went right after it.”
Aside from her physical preparations, Giaccio has worked hard on her mental game. “So I would say even with my knee recovery, from being the first alternate for the 2018 Games, to progressing the women’s side of sport [by throwing the first cork 10 in 2019], all of that has been a mental learning process in many different ways. Today, if there were little self doubts I was able to rebound so I could still perform in the moment. I have been working specifically on that since my knee injury. It was really gratifying to put that into practice today and have it work quite well.”
Owens claimed her first singles World Cup podium on the course where she made her first super finals appearance just one year ago. “Ruka is an amazing course and it really highlights my skiing,” said Owens. “It always has some big airs, I really like that bottom air, it’s drop-y and big. It’s early season, the first event, I was really nervous for every run, but that keeps me on my toes, keeps me ready and focused on my skiing.
“For me personally the first event of the season is always super nerve-wracking. You’re coming off training and a huge break from competing. You don’t really know where you stand. It’s nice to know this is where I'm at, and focus on how I can improve my performance from this.”
Owens skied fast and aggressively in the middle section and played up her jumping strength with the hardest jump package performed on the women’s side today. She flew high with a top cork 7 to a bottom cork 7 grab.
“This is the highest DD I’ve ever competed and was the highest today on World Cup. It’s exciting for me, keeps me challenged, keeps me chasing, striving and pushing. But today I am most proud of my skiing, I made some big improvements from last season.”
Australia’s Jakara Anthony completed the women’s podium with her second place finish.
Five total women represented the U.S. in finals with Hannah Soar, Jaelin Kauf and Tess Johnson all making appearances. Soar skied consistently throughout the day to finish in the top-six with a fifth place. Tess Johnson and Jaelin Kauf also skied in finals, finishing eighth and 14th, respectively. It’s cutthroat on the women’s World Cup with a very high level of competition, so expect to see the whole #PowHERhouse continue to get after it as the season unfolds.
In her first World Cup back from injury since 2019 Morgan Schild finished 23rd. “This was a huge step for Morgan,” said Gnoza. Madison Hogg had some trouble in the top air and did not finish but is okay.
Cole McDonald led the Americans on the men’s side, making an impressive statement with his debut World Cup performance finishing fifth. The 18-year-old was the youngest man to compete in Saturday’s finals. His back full to a cork 10 jump package scored high in both finals rounds. McDonald pushed his middle sections proving he can keep up, his super finals run was the fastest of the field.
“Today was really about trusting my abilities, especially in the first few rounds. It was just having confidence in what I can do and putting down my run,” said McDonald. “It feels really good to finally know that I belong out there with all of those other guys, some of the best in the world. At the start gate I was really just thinking ‘My run, it’s your run. You don't’ have to do anything more, just trust your ability.’”
“Cole showed everyone that he arrived on the World Cup scene today,” said Gnoza. “The goal for any first World Cup performance is to go out there and try to cut down your bib number. Cole did just that. We really pushed him to just ski his best and to ski the middle. He trusted his stuff and rode all of that to fifth-place finish. The neat part with Cole is that he did really well in his jumps, but he also has tricks in his bag. He is going to become a force to be reckoned with.”
“After today I am hungry for more and to see what damage I can do on the World Cup tour,” said McDonald.
McDonald is part of the pilot moguls D Team program and shows the collaborative approach U.S. Ski & Snowboard is taking with the development pipeline is paying off. “[The U.S. Ski Team] can’t take full credit for Cole, he came from Wasatch Freestyle. But this summer was a collaborative effort with our D Team members’ clubs and Cole definitely capitalized on getting a taste of Ski Team life and training. In that regard the system is starting to show that it can work.”
Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury won, Kazakhstan’s Pavel Kolmakov came in second and Japan’s Ikuma Horishima finished third.
Nick Page came out of the gate ready to put on a show in his first finals run with a cork 14 planned. Page became the first American to throw a cork 14 in World Cup competition at last year’s Ruka Opener. Unfortunately he had some trouble with the takeoff and didn’t quite put the trick down and finished the day 14th. Dylan Walczyk also made an appearance in finals, finishing 11th. Brad Wilson came in 21st.
“There were a lot of big wins from everyone today,” said Giacco. “Morgan coming back from injury, Tess doing her cork in competition. Cole making it into supers. It was cool to see, it’s one of the exciting aspects of competition beyond the numbers and results.”
Moguls continues their World Cup tour in Idre Fjäll, Sweden, with two competitions Dec. 11 & 12, including the first dual of the season.
2021-22 Freestyle World Cup Schedule
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