Kai Owens takes fourth in Utah World Cup
Tess Johnson eighth
They don’t seem to get many shots at this, but when they do, they’re making the most of it.
In the start-and-stop — mostly stop — season that is World Cup moguls 2020-21, Avon’s Kai Owens made waves with a career-best fourth-place finish, while West Vail‘s Tess Johnson was eighth on Thursday in Deer Valley, Utah. Not surprisingly, France’s Perrine Laffont won the event.
“Being on World Cup last year, I gained a lot of experience,” said Owens through a U.S. Ski Team news release. “I learned a lot last year in the struggle of Deer Valley, so I came out today. I overcame a lot this morning since last year I didn’t do that well here, so I’m really proud to come out and get redemption. This course is a real beast, it’s really tough, but I really like the challenge.”
Last year at Deer Valley, Owens finished 25th at Deer Valley in her third career World Cup start as a 15-year-old. A lot has changed for the now-grizzled 16-year-old.
We’re joking, but things are happening pretty fast for Owens. Before Deer Valley last year, Owens made her World Cup debut with two events in Canada — 11th and 10th place — before the tour came to Utah.
Despite the abrupt ending to 2020-21 and the scattershot nature of this season with COVID — two stops in Scandinavia in early December and then Deer Valley for singles Thursday and duals late Friday night — Owens is making a case for herself to be a mainstay of the national team as well as qualifying for worlds in March.
“I’m really happy with the performance from Kai Owens today, she really stepped up,” said head moguls coach Matt Gnoza in the same release. “She was amazingly nervous this morning and corralled it and skied like Kai Owens. She trusted her skills and her ability and took it all the way to fourth place. A podium is in her future for sure.”
Johnson finished eighth, ahead of teammate Hannah Soar ninth and Jaelin Kauf, a disappointing 16th for her. The reason we turn a World Cup event into an intramural American moguls comp is that, with the exception of Friday night’s dual moguls, the FIS Freestyle World Skiing Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on March 13-14 are the next event on the calendar.
In theory, one expects more than three tour stops — Ruka, Finland; Idre Fjall, Sweden; and Deer Valley — before worlds, and we’ll see if FIS throws something together, but wins, finishes and point totals are getting very important.
The Americans can enter four racers each in singles and duals. Kauf, out of Steamboat Springs and best buds with Johnson, is pretty much a mortal lock for Almaty, as is Soar. The two are ranked nos. 3 and 4 in the world on points.
Johnson is sixth in the World Cup points and third on the American team. Given the breadth of her experience — Tess joined the team at 14 years old — her appearance in the 2018 Olympics (12th place), three career World Cup podiums, including a win in in 2018, and her bronze medal in duals from worlds in 2019, Johnson, knock on wood, should be on the squad.
And the fourth member, in theory, seems to be Owens. She moved into No. 8 in the world in the points on Thursday. She’s been in four singles events this season, placed no worse than 12th and has finished 6-6-12-4 in 2020-21. And, for the record, her 12th-place finish in dual moguls on Dec. 13 in Finland was also a career-best in the discipline.
If Thursday’s singles were the last competition in the discipline before Almaty in March — and that’s what the FIS schedule says for now; everything is up in the air — Owens certainly did not leave a bad impression for the coaching staff and its decision.