Photo: AP/Rick Bowmer
Photo: AP/Rick Bowmer

Moguls trio earns early nomination to PyeongChang 2018 Olympic team

There was hardly a week this past season that didn’t include a highlight moment for Canadian moguls skiers.

A podium sweep? Check. A couple of world championship medals? Check. A sixth straight sweep of the Crystal Globes by Mikaël Kingsbury? Check.

That success has culminated in three skiers – Kingsbury, Justine Dufour-Lapointe, and Andi Naude – all meeting selection standards for early nomination to Team Canada for PyeongChang 2018.

“This is so cool, it means the world to me. It’s sort of hard to believe actually,” Naude told about being one step closer to finally fulfilling her kindergarten dream of being an Olympian.

“I can already take myself there and imagine it because I know for sure I will be there,” reigning Olympic champion Dufour-Lapointe said of alleviating some pressure for next season. “It’s kind of a gift to myself.”

Freestyle Canada targeted four events that would be used towards early Olympic qualification. Two of those were World Cups on Canadian snow in Val St. Come, Quebec and Calgary. There was also the World Cup in PyeongChang, South Korea that doubled as the Olympic test event and the world championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain.

Justine Dufour-Lapointe celebrates her victory at the moguls World Cup, on January 21, 2017 in Val St-Come, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Up to three athletes, with a maximum of two per gender, could earn their provisional Olympic nominations with podium finishes in at least two of those events, one of which had to be at either the test event or the world championships. The skiers still have to confirm their nominations with a valid result next season.

For Kingsbury, while the chance to get his Olympic qualification out of the way was important, he didn’t give it as much focus as trying to improve upon some technical aspects of his skiing.

“Every piece of the puzzle is put together,” the Olympic silver medallist explained. “I’m very close to having it together but I know there’s little details in my jumping and in the speed and in my turns that I want to fix. It’s nice this year to work on all that without having too much (qualification pressure).”

Dufour-Lapointe says she spent the season adapting to different snow conditions than were anticipated at various events and trying to get a feel for what the judges were looking for.

“I feel it gave me way more knowledge for next year and to be so much more prepared for the Olympic Games,” she said.

While Kingsbury and Dufour-Lapointe are very familiar with what the Games are all about, Naude will be experiencing it for the first time. In 2014, when she had just turned 18, she had one of the biggest heartbreaks of her life when she was the odd girl out, named as first alternate to a very competitive team.

“I wasn’t expecting it really, but I was so close that I could almost taste it,” she said of not being in Sochi. “But I promised myself that I wouldn’t go through that again.”

Canada’s Andi Naude competes to take the silver at the women’s dual moguls at the World Cup freestyle skiing final city event in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, March 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

At the start of the season, her prospects for meeting the early nomination benchmarks did not look promising. She had missed two straight finals and suffered one of the worst crashes of her life when she over-rotated a backflip in training. Naude prides herself on doing some of the most difficult jumps in the world among the women, including a full twisting backflip. Landing on her head, she was diagnosed with a minor concussion and whiplash. It left her unsure if she wanted to compete in Val St. Come.

“That was definitely the lowest point of my season,” Naude said. “I was so upset, like ‘why am I doing this if it’s making me upset?’”

But after speaking with her family, coaches and sports psychologist, she found her drive and ended up winning the silver medal, sandwiched between a victorious Justine and her older sister Chloé Dufour-Lapointe. That set the tone for the rest of the year.

RELATED: Canadian women sweep, Kingsbury still king at Val St. Come

After Dufour-Lapointe captured silver in Calgary, both women also stood on the podium in PyeongChang, Dufour-Lapointe with another silver and Naude with bronze.

“I really felt like I was skiing like textbook in my mind,” Dufour-Lapointe said of her run down the icy and hard Olympic course.

Dufour-Lapointe ended up capping the season with the bronze medal at the world championships, at which point she realized she had done enough to reserve her Olympic spot.

RELATED: Kingsbury, Dufour-Lapointe land world bronze medals 

Mikael Kingsbury of Canada races during the Men’s Moguls qualification run at the 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Kingsbury didn’t miss the podium in any of the four targeted events, winning gold in Val St. Come and PyeongChang to go with a silver in Calgary and a bronze at the worlds. The latter was slightly disappointing, but didn’t diminish what he believes to be his best season ever.

“I won nine World Cups out of 11. I won seven in a row,” he said. “It didn’t go the way I wanted to at worlds, the course was not the type of course I’m good at. It was super warm and unpredictable.”

Conversely, he was extremely happy with the conditions at the test event, which were held almost a year to the day to when the Olympic competition will take place.

Mikael Kinsgsbury kisses his trophy as he celebrates his victory at the moguls World Cup on January 21, 2017 in Val St-Come, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

RELATED: Canadian moguls skiers land two double podiums at PyeongChang 2018 test event

“It’s not the steepest (course) but it’s not super flat. It’s quite challenging and the way they built it this year was nice, every consistent moguls with a little change of rhythm when you land the top air, which I like.”

The off-season will be short for these skiers. On a break following the world championships in March, the gym will soon be beckoning before they start chasing the snow in Whistler and Australia.

Canada’s full freestyle skiing team for PyeongChang 2018 will be announced after the qualification window closes in January.