I’m really just weirded out right now. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s awesome. —K.C. Oakley
PARK CITY — It’s tough to imagine U.S. mogul skier K.C. Oakley’s weekend getting much better, but it actually could.
Her good fortune began on Thursday when the 26-year-old California native learned she’d be getting a grant from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association to help fund her ski career. Then Friday morning she was told she’d earned one of the five spots available to the U.S. freestyle team at the upcoming world championships.
“And now this?” she said, referring to her first-ever World Cup victory on the champion course at Deer Valley. “It’s like maybe the best couple of days ever. And we still have one more day of competition, so maybe it keeps getting better.”
Oakley edged defending Olympic gold medalist Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada with a score of 82.53. Dufour-Lapoint, the youngest of her sisters competing in Friday’s super final, beat her sister Chloe by the smallest margin — 79.46 to 79.28.
Oakley was in a bit of a daze after skiing the fastest run of the women’s competition and earning the best combined score on her two jumps.
“I’m really just weirded out right now,” Oakley said laughing. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s awesome.”
Oakley said her strategy for Friday’s competition was pretty simple — ski fast.
“For me, coming back from injury, it was just about getting back out there again,” she said. “I love this course, especially at night, all the soft sugar snow is on there. It’s so ripping, and I know speed is always on my side, so I’m going for it. My runs weren’t perfectly clean. I just went for speed, and apparently it worked out.”
Oakley missed most of last season after having surgery for a nerve entrapment, and then in May she broke her fibula and heel and tore “a bunch of ligaments.”
“I really just got back into skiing at Finland, our first World Cup (this season),” she said. Her result in that first World Cup wasn’t good, but she finished 11th at Calgary’s World Cup.
“Calgary was like a confidence boost and finally feeling good and able to rip the course,” Oakley said of Deer Valley.
Top U.S. woman and defending world champion Hannah Kearney didn’t qualify for Friday’s final after having a bobble on the top section of the course in the qualifying rounds. The men’s overall World Cup leader, Japan’s Sho Endo, qualified for the finals with the best score, but he hurt his back on a training run minutes before finals began and was taken to Park City Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.
With Kearney and Endo out of the competition, Canada claimed the overall World Cup title in both cases. Justine Dufour-Lapointe earned the yellow bib for the women, while Friday's men’s champion Mikael Kingsbury earned the leader’s bib. U.S. skier Patrick Deneen was third (85.07) behind Australia's Matt Graham (85.49).
Deneen was happy with how he skied, especially after coming off an injury that affected his training heading into World Cup competition.
“For me, I’ve been having a pretty rough start to the season," he said. "I had surgery coming into the season, so I wasn’t fully prepared. I was just really happy to ski consistently and to ski the runs that I skied. I definitely would have liked to have had cleaner runs — I had a few bobbles in there — but I made up for it by charging through the rest of the course. It worked out really well for me.”
Kingsbury won by a significant margin on a course the 22-year-old said he loves.
“It’s my favorite by far,” he said of the 2002 Olympic course. “It’s such a tough course. It’s the most challenging course we have every year. And every year I manage to ski well here, so yeah, I like it.”
Kingsbury, who has been skiing since he was 2 years old, has never done worse than fifth place at Deer Valley. He said the key to his consistency is how he approaches the competition.
“I think I’m a smart skier,” Kingsbury said. “I listen to the scores, and I know what to do in the gate. I never gamble. I just need to do my run. I know if I do the run that I want, I put myself in the position to win. And that’s my goal every race.”
He was pleased with his performance Friday night — especially with his jumps, which were the highest scoring tricks of the night.
“It’s the one place I ski my best all the time,” he said. “At the end of the day, when it counted the most, that’s when I skied my best run. There is no feeling like that.”
The mogul skiers will compete in dual moguls, which are head-to-head races, on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the World Cup’s final competition.
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