Casey Puckett flies to a
The World Cup freestyle season-openers
spanned the planet BY ERIC WILLIAMS
The opening weeks of World Cup freestyle action sent athletes all over the
world. The moguls skiers kicked things off Dec. 11 and 12 in Suomu, Finland;
aerialists made their way to Changchun, China, Dec. 19 and 20; and the ski
cross crowd was in Innichen, Italy, Dec. 21 and 22.
Suomu, Finland, played host to the Freestyle Premier 2009 with back-to-back nights of men’s and women’s moguls competitions under the lights.
It was Canada’s Kristi Richards with the debut women’s win, only the second
of Cup victory of the 28-year-old’s career. Japan’s two-time world champion
Aiko Uemura took second, followed by last season’s World Cup overall title
winner, American Hannah Kearney, in third with her 22nd career World Cup
“I feel like the last four years of work are coming together at the right time,”
said Richards. “I just went for it today in the final and didn’t hold anything
A seven-and-a-half hour opening ceremony, held between runs, cooled Kearney, who fought to maintain her lead after the first leg of competition. “On
my second run, I just gave it away,” she said. “It was just a whole ’nother competition. That made it unique.”
The ceremony wasn’t the only break American skiers had to deal with. They
were forced to improvise their training schedule when the team’s luggage ar-
rived four days late.
Apparently, after some sleep Kearney realized she could do better than third
place. The Norwich, Vt., native awoke on Day 2 to take the women’s win for
her seventh career World Cup victory. A pair of Canadians joined Kearney
on the podium. Richards took a step down to second, followed by teammate
and Kearney’s toughest competition last season, Jennifer Heil (fifth the day
before) in third.
“I won the qualifying run again and just skied the same run,” said Kearney.
“I made no mistakes this time and I ended things in first place, which is very
The bottom halves of both day’s top- 10 lists were packed with U.S. women as
Heather McPhie (seventh, sixth), Shannon Bahrke (eighth), Michelle Roark
(ninth, fifth) Emiko Torito (fourth) and Shelley Robertson (seventh) made
the cases for their Olympic spots.
Consistency seemed to be the theme for the men as Sweden’s Jesper Bjoern-lund took both men’s victories and American Bryon Wilson grabbed his first
two World Cup podiums with a pair of second-place finishes. The wins were
also 24-year-old Bjoernlund’s first World Cup podiums after 43 attempts
“It’s my best result ever,” said Wilson, the 2009 U.S. national champion
whose previous best result was a fifth-place finish at Are in 2008 . “I’m pretty
excited. I knew it was a good run.”
Hannah Kearney finished
with a win and a third in
Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau took Day 1’s bronze, and American Nate Roberts rounded out the podium on Day 2.
“We knew it was going to happen and that he had the potential to do it, and
it was great to see him put it together tonight,” said U.S moguls coach Scott
Rawles after Wilson’s first performance.
Ironically, Wilson didn’t go to Finland to compete. “I didn’t even plan on skiing this weekend because I was an alternate,” said Wilson. “Unfortunately one
of our guys [Landon Gardener] got hurt and I got put in. So I’m really happy
with two second places. It’s amazing. I just can’t believe it. It’s awesome.”
With a pair of World Cup podiums under his belt Wilson, a B Team athlete
at the onset of the season, was promoted to the U.S. A Team. For more on
Wilson, see page 11.
Like Chinese athletes across many Olympic sports, the aerialists in red are
good. They proved it Dec. 19 and 20 at home in Changchun at the World Cup
aerials debut, taking 10 of 12 podium spots.