A final and an Olympic bid for Vail moguls skiers at first World Cup
LOCAL MOGULS PICTURE
Matt Leseur — Bremuda ski team member from Vail who just made Olympics at Ruka World Cup
Emerson Smith — Top performing American man from Ruka World Cup and Leseur’s teammate in Ski & Snowboard Club Vail program
Riley Campbell — Coach who discovered Smith, also coach of the Bermuda moguls skiing team and a coach for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail
John Dowling — Coach who discovered Campbell, also program director for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail
Tess Johnson — Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete who could benefit from having Campbell at Olympics now that Leseur qualified
Morgan Schild — Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete who will benefit from having Campbell at Olympics now that Leseur qualified
EAGLE COUNTY — The local moguls kids had a good weekend in Ruka, Finland.
We call them kids because Tess Johnson, 17, and Matt Leseur, 18, are, indeed, growing up as they take on the World Cup in the sport of freestyle moguls skiing.
Leseur is a West Vail resident and 2017 graduate of Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, where Johnson, of Edwards, is now a senior.
Leseur competes for Bermuda as he has dual citizenship with that nation and the U.S. You might call it a less competitive team than the U.S. freestyle squad, where Johnson was one of five Americans to make the top-16 finals round in Ruka. While only four women will be chosen for the Olympics from the U.S., Bermuda no doubt feels lucky to have a single athlete make the minimum criteria of a top 30 World Cup finish.
On Saturday, Dec. 9, that athlete was Leseur, as his 29th-place finish turned his Olympic website status to green from red, he said, sounding a bit in disbelief.
“It says I’m eligible in Olympic mogul skiing for Bermuda,” he said in a phone call from Finland on Saturday. “We are waiting for some sort of confirmation of the sort, but it’s looking green in all areas, so technically I’ve made it … I guess today was the day I technically qualified for the Olympics.”
Leseur credited coach Riley Campbell for formulating a plan of attack, or lack thereof.
A World Cup moguls course, in addition to moguls, has two big jumps, or “airs,” as the athletes call them. Watching the competition unfold, Campbell and Leseur noticed a lot of athletes not performing well on the first jump.
“We decided we would take it down and take a step back in the top air,” Leseur said. “Instead of charging hard in the top air we would take it back and slow everything down … ski smarter, not harder.”
Campbell said the Olympic spot was well earned as Leseur had to outperform a number of top competitors on Saturday.
“Matty beat five of the six U.S. Team males today,” Leseur said Saturday. “He beat Matt Graham, who is number three in the world … so it proves that he was absolutely deserving of that spot.”
EYE FOR DETAIL
Campbell is the Bermuda team’s national coach, and is also a moguls coach for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail under program director John Dowling.
Dowling brought a range of successful elements to Vail’s program when he joined the team from Team Breckenridge during the 2012-13 season. Among the pieces in Dowling’s puzzle was Campbell, who was one of Dowling’s athletes as a kid.
“He groomed me for coaching,” Campbell said of Dowling.
Dowling said he always knew Campbell had an eye for detail, something that suits a coach well.
“He was a really slight build,” Dowling said of Campbell, “often competing against bigger guys. But his technical prowess was what allowed him to be competitive. It was all on his technical understanding and ability.”
After becoming a coach, Campbell started grooming athletes of his own who he saw potential to compete at the high level, including then-13-year-old Emerson Smith. Smith, now 20, was the top performing American man at Saturday’s World Cup in Ruka and the only one to make finals, finishing 15th. Smith joined Ski & Snowboard Club Vail with Dowling and Campbell, and is now one of five athletes on the U.S. team who calls Campbell coach.
So far the only other Ski & Snowboard Club Vail moguls skier who seems certain for the Olympics is Morgan Schild. Schild is from Pittsford, New York, and transferred into the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail program after seeing the potential it offered her. Schild made finals on Saturday but, like Johnson, crashed and finished at the back of the 16-person final.
Unlike Johnson, however, Schild’s place on the Olympic team is a foregone conclusion after she notched a couple of podium finishes last season. Now that Leseur is qualified, Schild will have the benefit of Campbell, her coach, at the Olympics with her, as well.
It’s an advantage Johnson and Smith say they will also enjoy, should they make the Olympic team. And until then, the fact that Campbell is able to join them on the World Cup, thanks to his status as Bermuda’s coach, is also making things more comfortable for the Vail athletes.
“I think we all agree it’s nice having Riley there,” Johnson said of Campbell at a recent training session in Vail. “Just to go back to him as a home base, whether it’s for technical advice or tactical advice, he knows us the best.”
World Cup freestyle skiing continues Thursday, Dec. 21 in Thaiwoo, China.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.