Owens, Johnson celebrate American moguls sweep
Next stop worlds?
There are Fridays and then there are epic Fridays.
World Cup moguls racer Kai Owens, 16, from Avon, had an epic Friday.
“Funny story, my parents were actually driving to Colorado Springs while I was skiing to get a new dog, a new puppy,” Owens said. “Yesterday was a pretty big day. I got a dog and a gold medal.”
Yep, that’s a legendary day. When asked which was more special, winning her first World Cup, a dual-moguls event in Deer Valley, Utah, or Mochi, a French bulldog who’s about the size of a bunny now, Owens said, “Probably the dog.”
While Mochi’s arrival grows the Owens family to five, that gold medal is also quite the moment. Not only did Owens win her first World Cup on Friday, a big moment for any athlete in any form of snowsports, but she led an American sweep of the podium. Vermont’s Hannah Soar was second and West Vail’s Tess Johnson took third.
This is the first American sweep of a dual-moguls event and the first 1-2-3 finish since a World Cup in Deer Valley on Feb. 1, 2013.
“Hannah Kearney, Heather McPhie, Eliza Outtrim,” Johnson said from Utah on Saturday. “They swept in Deer Valley in singles eight years ago.”
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If the skiing thing doesn’t work out, Johnson has a spot in sports journalism for coming up with that nugget. But she and Owens are probably going to stick to moguls the way things are going.
The 11th World Cup start
Yes, Friday was only Owens’ 11th World Cup start. That hurts the brain in a good way.
“Yeah, it’s starting to sink in more and more,” Owens said. “The goal every time I start is to try to win. I don’t know if I’m surprised. I’m more excited that it happened so fast.”
Using a backflip mute for her first air and a cork-7 for her second, Owens advanced through the bracket and whom should she meet, but Owens in the semifinals?
“For that specific round, I was really excited for both of us,” Owens said. “It was going to be my career best no matter what. We both knew we could put on a show. We were just trying to give those judges a hard time.”
What is fascinating is both Owens and Johnson in separate interviews from different states — Johnson is staying over in Park City, Utah, while Owens flew home Saturday — used almost the exact same language to describe their semi.
“I wouldn’t say it’s strange. Its all really fun,” Johnson said.“We just all agreed at Deer Valley to put on a show and have fun with it. At the end of the day, an U.S. woman will advance, so that’s something to celebrate.”
Owens prevailed and then went on to beat Soar in the final. Since it’s early days yet, Owens doesn’t know where the gold medal will go, but her bedroom is looking like a contender for its display, possibly in a frame.
Johnson hopped a flight from Salt Lake City to Denver Saturday and will be back for a week or so before going back to Park City for a training camp in preparation — in theory; more on this later — for the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships — knock on wood — in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in March.
Meanwhile, Johnson, 20 and happily free of high school studies unlike Owens, is staying put in the Salt Lake area. Johnson will be taking a well-deserved week off to recover from this weekend — preferably in a hot tub.
In training early Friday, Johnson wiped out in impressive fashion, injuring her back and neck. Good luck skiing with a bad back on moguls. Primarily as a self-checkup, Johnson went back up to the top of the course to give it a go, looked down at her skis, and saw that one of her edges was crushed, useless.
With her first set of skis busted and her body aching, Johnson considered pulling out of Friday’s comp.
“At that point, I was just concerned about my body and my health,” Johnson said from Utah after finishing a session of physical therapy. “Unfortunately, the girl meant to face me (in the round of 32) scratched because she was hurt, too. That gave me some time to recoup and when training for the finals (starting with the round of 16) came around, it felt like a fresh start to the day.”
That was important because Johnson met France’s Perrine Laffont, the three-time defending World Cup moguls champion and 22-time World Cup winner. Score one for Johnson, though. She got the win. Perhaps, that’s a bit of confidence were the two to meet up in Almaty next month.
After seeing with Owens in the semis, Johnson faced Kazakhstan’s Yuliya Galysheva in the small final, aka the third-place race. This was a rematch of the 2019 worlds small final … in Deer Valley … in which Johnson came away with the bronze.
Ironically, just like in the Owens-Soar final, Johnson’s oppenent went down/was disqualified for missing gates on the course, leaving Tess to slow down and make sure she finished. And, yes, while Johnson’s eyes were focused on the snow ahead, she did know Galysheva was out of contention.
“Especially in the later rounds, if a skier is still skiing, you can hear them behind you, next to you or in front of you,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t hear anything. I saw snow spray up. You just kind of know.”
With Owens and Soar competing in the final, when Johnson crossed the line, an American sweep of the podium was assured. This is special.
“It’s also (teammates) Olivia (Giaccio) Jaelin (Kauf) and all of them,” Johnson said. “I’ve dreamed about a sweep since I created this bond with these girls. It’s so special. These are the moments and the days I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Now do the American ladies make some more history? Unless FIS adds another event somewhere, worlds are next in Almaty on March 8-11. The U.S. Team will not be announced until Wednesday.
However, a look at the World Cup points in moguls shows that Owens, Soar, Kauf and Johnson are ranked Nos. 3-6 in the world, much less the United States. Since each country gets four racers at worlds, that would seem to be the quartet.