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Tess Johnson takes fifth at worlds duals

Owens finishes 10th

West Vail’s Tess Johnson leads the U.S. Freestyle Team with a fifth-place finish in Tuesday’s world championships dual moguls in Almaty, Kazakhstan. With the worlds concluded, the next big goal for Johnson, Avon’s Kai Owens and the rest of the team is the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. (AP File Photo/Gregory Bull)

West Vail’s Tess Johnson led the way on Day 2 of the Almaty, Kazakhstan, portion of the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard Championships on Tuesday, taking fifth place in dual moguls.

Avon’s Kai Owens, who finished sixth on Monday during singles while Johnson was 10th, was 10th in duals.

“These past two days have been pretty disappointing results-wise, but when I take a step back and look at the skiing I did, I’m actually really proud of myself,” said Johnson in a press release issued by the U.S. Ski Team. “This sport can be tough sometimes; it can be hard to separate results from performance, but at the end of the day, I put down some really good runs and that’s worth celebrating.”



Kai Owens, shown here on her way to a dual-moguls win in Deer Valley, Utah, last month, finishes 10th on Tuesday during doubles action at worlds in Kazakhstan, Almaty. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The good news is World Cup finals are Sunday in Kazakhstan — one race only, a dual-moguls comp, a strange finale to a weird year.

The tone of the U.S. Ski Team was somewhat somber. COVID-19 or not, these were world champs and the U.S. women did not medal, which is a disappointment. To be frank — and I’m Chris — expectations are simply different for the Freestyle Team than the Alpine.



In Alpine, Mikaela Shiffrin does what she does — usually magnificently: if she’s off the podium, we go into frenzies of “What’s the matter with Mikaela?” — and the rest of the team’s finishes are noted.

The U.S. Freeskiing Team was ranked Nos. 3-6 in the world entering the world championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this week. (Screen grab, fis-ski.com)

Hannah Soar (Vermont), Owens, Jaelin Kauf (Steamboat Springs) and Johnson were ranked Nos. 3-6 in the world entering the championships. Just to illustrate the different expectations, the top four Alpine ladies are ranked sixth (Shiffrin***), 15th (Breezy Johnson — way to go for a speed specialist), 28th (Paula Moltzan) and 57th (Nina O’Brien).

Please note the asterisks for Shiffrin. Of course, Mikaela would be ranked higher were she to be competing in more events. And, yes, Alpine and freestyle are the proverbial apples and oranges.

But those freestyle rankings are why, the team’s coach Matt Gnoza sounded frustrated in the team’s release.

“The team is definitely looking forward to finishing strong in the World Cup finals,” Gnoza said. “We’ll take a couple of days off here in Kazahkstan and then return to training on Friday and Saturday and try and bring it again on Sunday. We know we’re in the game. We know the athletes are capable of getting out there and getting the job done. And they’ll rise to the occasion here, that’s for sure.”

Since this is a little grim, perhaps, a little perspective is needed. Unlike Alpine, it is worth noting that COVID has pretty much shredded whatever the tour was for moguls in 2020-21. While Alpine has changed its schedule — most notably eliminating the North American swing, including Birds of Prey here in December — there have been weekly events.

Tess Owens and Kai Johnson — just making sure you’re still with us — and the rest of the moguls circuit haven’t been so lucky. While the Alpine women have contested 27 events this season — not including two more weeks of worlds in Italy (7 more races, including team and parallel) with worlds in Italy — the moguls tour has had 6 world Cup events this winter.

Again, the team will make no excuses because it brands itself as The PowHERhouse, but it’s hard to gain consistency when there is roughly one World Cup stop per month — technically two in Scandinavia in December and one in Deer Valley, Utah, in February, not to mention a one-month layoff between that Utah comp and worlds in Kazakhstan. (And we heard that Owens and Johnson did really well in the duals in Utah.)

Owens finished sixth in singles and 10th in duals as a 16-year-old in her worlds debut this week, a great start to what fans hope is the first of many. Johnson backed up a bronze medal won in duals at 2019 worlds in Deer Valley by finishing 10th and fifth, respectively.

Both have skied brilliantly this season — all Tess Johnson does is land in the top 10 even in a season which is the ultimate challenge in consistency. Meanwhile, Owens got her first World Cup win last month, so she’s already in “great year” territory.

Bottom line: Owens, Johnson, Soar and Kauf had the equivalent of a “bad” weekend and it happened to be worlds. That happens even to the best. Better at worlds than say, Beijing and the 2022 Winter Olympics, which now become the biggest target for the team.

In the meantime, let’s do it one last time this year on Sunday.


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