Feature | Freestyle Skiing

Exclusive! Mogul king Mikael Kingsbury excited to 'be the hunter' after quick recovery

The Olympic moguls champion predicts he will compete just two months after breaking his back, as mental training helps the Canadian relish his new challenge

By Ashlee Tulloch and Andrew Binner ·

Mikael Kingsbury had a reputation as one of the most durable athletes ever in freestyle skiing.

After sealing silver at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the Canadian competed in an astonishing 107-consecutive World Cup races, winning seven moguls and overall titles.

He also added four World Championships gold medals to his resume, before landing Olympic gold at PyeongChang 2018.

But that mesmeric run of form and fitness came crashing to a halt earlier this month, after a serious training accident saw him fracture two vertebrae in his back. He avoided any nerve damage though, and Kingsbury is now targeting the Calgary World Cup event on 28-29 January for his return.

In a candid interview with Olympic Channel, below, the 28-year-old revealed why he is excited for this new challenge, his handy tricks for overcoming nerves, future goals, and much more.

Olympic Channel (OC): It has been three weeks now since your injury. How are you, and what is the latest update on your condition?

Mikael Kingsbury (MK): I'm feeling much better than when I was in Finland after the crash! I'm getting better every day, so everything is going in the right direction. I’ve just finished my quarantine at home, so I’m excited to be starting my official rehabilitation. I've done a lot of stuff at home, like using the stationary bike for a half-hour every day. I'm starting to get a bit more range in my back, which is good, and I'm starting to do gym work, no weights. I think by week four I should be able to ski with no impact. I think I’ll be skiing moguls by the end of January. So there's still a long process, but I'm motivated and I'm positive, and I know I'll get through this.

OC: What do you remember from the accident?

MK: I did a pretty routine trick for me, one that I usually use in qualification. The jump was not perfect, but it was nice. But it was too far and I flew like Superman and landed in the face of the first mogul, but to try and protect my neck and my face I turned and made my back take the impact. At first I lost my breath and I thought my back was just super tight. I knew straight away I would need maybe one or two days off before being able to compete. When I got into my room right after the crash, I had a hard time unclipping my boots and getting my jacket off. So then I knew it was something more serious.

The next day we went to get a CT scan and this is where they discovered the two fractures on T4 and T5 (vertebrae). But the good news is it's a clean cut and it's super far from all the nerves and it's just like a normal broken bone. You just need time to heal.

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OC: In the past two weeks, was there any part of you that considered quitting due to the severity of the injury?

MK: Quitting, no. I got scared for sure, especially after people tell me that I was pretty lucky (to not suffer a worse injury). If I was a guy that didn’t take care of his body and wasn’t in good shape, it could have been way worse. But the roughest part of the injury for me was missing some events, because I’ve competed in 107 World Cup events in a row since the Vancouver Olympic Games. But at the same time, I thought to myself, ‘This is good timing for an injury like this,' because it's a weird season. There are fewer events and it didn’t happen just before the Olympics.

I still have a lot of time to get back to 100 percent for the Games. I have already been trying to count in my head how many points the World Cup leader could get ahead of me. If I can get back to competition in six weeks, like the doctors say, then it's possible for me to compete in Calgary and in Almaty (at the world championships).

But I stopped thinking too far ahead because there is no need to pressure myself like that. I don't have to prove myself or have to win. I think my stats and my results show already that I'm capable of winning. But it's going to be more for myself. I want to come back and prove to myself that I'm still able to do it.

OC: If you do return to competition in four weeks, do you think you can still win the overall World Cup this season?

MK: I think so, yes. I always believe in myself, is it going to be hard? Yes, of course. The guys are skiing very well. But I think for me, it's more important that I come back and be 100 percent fit, and I'll just go one race at a time. It's a weird year. It's a weird season. There may be enough time to catch up. I hope so, but we'll see. The main goal is the World Championships this year.

It’s also going to be very good for me to learn from this injury. I'm putting myself in a position that I've not been in before in my career. Usually, people are chasing me, like in the standings, and now I'm in the position where I start the race later. The guys will have a pretty big lead on me. So I need to catch them up. If I’m fully fit, I'll be the hunter!

Mikael KINGSBURY

Canada
Freestyle Skiing
See More

Number of medals

2 Olympic medals

1
1

Olympic Games

2 Olympic Games

OC: You are known for your durability, so how has this accident affected your confidence in your body?

MK: Right now, not that much. We'll see when I get back on snow but I'm not very worried about that. I'll wear a back protector when I first get back on my skis to help my confidence when I start jumping again. But it was bad luck. I've had crashes that were a bit more scary, but nothing happened. So I think it's part of the game when you sign up for moguls skiing or for any extreme sport. I've seen many of my friends get worse injuries than I did. Mine is scary to say because you don't want to mess up your spine. But people that have blown their ACL - and I've seen so many - for them, I think it's even harder to come back, especially in a sport like moguls skiing. So I'm confident in my return.

There is a chance that mine is a long-term injury, but it's also possible that in six weeks it will be a thing of the past, or even maybe in two months. So that's what I'm hoping for. And the odds are in my favour for a quick recovery because of the way it is broken. That appears to be the direction it is going because there is always something getting better every day, and that's very, very positive.

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OC: How much mental training do you do, and what part will that play in your recovery?

MK: The mental side has always been a big part of my success and a big tool. I have used visualisation since I was a kid. I have a mental trainer and we've been speaking quite a lot. I think the most important part is to be surrounded by good people. I have a good team, very close team-mates, and the same with my family. So I think this plays a big role to feel everyone is on my side. A lot of my comeback will be about what’s happening between my ears, combined with my experience. I’ve never had a big injury, but I know how to come back to the start gate, and do my game. I mean, there's nothing that is going to put me as much pressure as the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

I don’t think I’ll be nervous when I return, I think I'll be super excited and I'll be very focussed. I've already been through it in my head.

OC: How does your back injury affect your feelings towards defending your Olympic title at Beijing 2022?

MK: I think my injury is not a factor in all of this. There will be less pressure on my side that's for sure, and I'm excited just to get another opportunity to win a medal.

But I'm trying to stay a bit more in the present right now and I'll train very hard this summer. I'll be ready again.

Perhaps the only different feeling in the Beijing start gate compared to PyeongChang is that it may be my last Olympics. We'll see. But I think it's just going to be a bit more fun and less pressure, so I'm super excited.

OC: There was an enormous amount of expectation on you going into the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics where everyone expected you to win. How did you cope with the pressure?

I think I was more prepared for the pressure in PyeongChang after my experience in Sochi where I won a silver medal. So that is the best preparation I could ask for.

The fact is, I won 13 out of the 14 events prior to the Olympics. The only time I didn't win, I was a pretty close second just before the Games, which was actually very good as not turning up the Games perfect, perfect, perfect made me sharper.

I know I'm the favourite when I compete in the World Cup, but it's not like the Olympics, where you're also competing for your country and your sponsors etc. There’s just a lot more riding on it. The strategy I had over there mentally was trying not to win every round, but just trying to get through every round and take as much information from the course as possible. Then on the final run, you put everything together as best as you can.

It’s a release of stress for me, not just pressure. You've got to show everyone, every time you step in the starting gate, that you're the best. Focus on the process and the outcome will be what you want.

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OC: I want to talk about the start of your career. I've heard that you had a picture of the Olympic rings above your bed as a kid, reminding you of your dream to win a gold medal. Is that true?

MK: At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, I was still a little kid. I was 10 years old or so, and I remember watching the best moguls skiers in the world, and I remember saying that I want to be as good as them and go as fast as they go. So I printed the Olympic rings, no one told me to do that, but I did it and stuck it over my bed. It's kind of amazing that 15 years later that dream came true. The picture is still there, so I guess it's still my dream. I mean, I've done it, but I'm going to do it again.

OC: Do you still get nervous before you do a run? And if so, what are your tips to deal with the nerves?

MK: I still get the nerves, and excitement, and I think it’s very important to keep the flame inside your body. It shows that you care. I mean, if I wasn't nervous, it probably means that I don't really care anymore. It's nerves that I get before I drop. And I feel I need that to concentrate. For me, it's kind of like a drug. In the summer I miss that feeling.

I have a very good routine which I try to follow, like listening to music. I do the stuff that puts me in a good mood. If I feel that I have a bit too much stress, I try to kind of lie to my body, smile, and a good trick is to open your chest, which makes you feel like you're in control of what you're doing. You see a lot of people when they're stressed that their chest is a bit more round and down.

OC: Moguls skiing looks punishing on your body. What's the most painful thing about your sport?

MK: I think everyone could answer that differently, but it's not actually as hard on the knees as it looks. Knee injuries are more down to bad luck or falls. I think the back gets most of the impact, especially on the bumps and landing, even when you don't crash. For me, the other one is my toes. My boots are very tight and when I land jumps, my toes keep stubbing the end of my boot, leaving me with nice bleeding at the end of a run. I think that's the most painful thing. It can get pretty nasty, usually after the run I relieve the pressure by bursting the blisters that appear with a needle and letting the blood pump out. That’s not fun!

OC: Before getting injured, you were the first person to land a cork Fourteen forty in competition, back in 2019. Do you have tricks that you’re working on for when you return?

MK: Yes and no. I’ve completed the 1440 just three times, so I want to be able to do it more consistently. There is also a cork 1080 with a truck driver mute that I’ve been working on. Not many people have done that trick on a mogul course, so this one would be fun to do. I've practised doing it a lot this summer on the water ramp, and in Switzerland I've done it on snow. There's also the double that I can do, but the FIS doesn’t allow that yet. But I've been working on a double cork ten. The way that Johnny Moseley brought the Cork 720, I think there is a way for me to bring that trick.

Kingsbury won Olympic silver at Sochi 2014, and gold at PyeongChang 2018 in moguls.

OC: There are a lot of different types of skiers: alpine, speed experts, slalom kings, big air jumpers, halfpipe freeskiers, and of course mogul skiers. Which type of skier do you think is the most complete in terms of their skill-set?

MK: That's a good question! Personally, I would say mogul skiing, because we have pretty much every aspect of skiing involved. We have lots of jumping, tricks, and we need to carve into the moguls. I respect every sport immensely, but I just think that our sport has a bit more of every aspect of skiing.

Slopestyle skiers also require a lot of different qualities, but in between the jumps, the judges don't care how you ski. It's the same with alpine skiing, where you just have to be the fastest down the course. There's no one judging your technique, although the skiers with better technique are usually also the fastest ones.

OC: You are the moguls G.O.A.T. You won Olympic gold and a ninth-consecutive overall World Cup last year. You've won everything that you can in the sport. So what keeps you motivated to perform at the top level year after year?

MK: I just love what I do. I love competing, I like the strategy that comes into it, and the feeling of winning never gets old for me. The feeling I get when I win now is the same as when I won my first World Cup race, even though I’ve won like 62 now.

But it's not only winning, I'd say it's more the performance in general. When I cross the line, and I know I've worked to find the perfect strategy for that run, it feels great. I love competing. I'm a competitor in life and I love crossing the finish line.