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New Canadian star Kingsbury hopes to face Bilodeau in World Cup freestyle

01/10/2012 04:55 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - With Olympic champion Alex Bilodeau on semi-sabbatical, Mikael Kingsbury has wasted little time challenging his reign as the star of Canada's freestyle skiing team.

The 19-year-old Kingsbury has posted two wins in as many races to start the 2011-12 season, but he may have to go head-to-head against his mentor Bilodeau at the Canada Post Grand Prix meet this weekend at Mont-Gabriel north of Montreal.

Bilodeau has guaranteed he will run only one event this season, Feb. 2-4 at Deer Valley, Utah, but said he will take part in training sessions on Thursday and Friday and then decide whether to compete in the men's dual moguls at his "home" meet on Saturday.

"I'll probably compete, it looks like I will, but I don't want to say for sure," said Bilodeau, who posted his first World Cup win at Mont-Gabriel in 2006 and won there again last year.

Bilodeau, 24, elected to skip almost all competition this season in order to build up his conditioning, spare some pounding on his knees and work on a university degree before starting next season on his push toward the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

He said he has probably trained more and is in better shape than the skiers who have been competing, but admits it has been difficult to watch the World Cup season go on without him. Before this season, he had missed only two events in his career due to injury.

"Even the day before the first race in Finland I was thinking 'If I get on the plane right now I could be there on time for qualification,'" he said with a laugh. "It was hard watching it on the Web, knowing that I've been doing top to bottom (training runs).

"But I've had so much on my mind with school and everything. It's hard, but it will pay off later in my skiing career and my after-career."

Bilodeau, who trains on a course that last week was named after him at St-Come, Que., was pleased to see Kingsbury winning in his absence, although he noted that a handful of top moguls skiers were taking this season off.

But with Kingsbury's rocket rise to top of the discipline, there is a possibility there could be a new No. 1 in Canadian moguls by next season. At last season's world championships, Bilodeau won with Kingsbury second.

If they face one another this week, Kingsbury said "I'll ski my best and well see the results."

It's not like they are blood rivals, not yet anyway. Kingsbury, from Ste-Agathe, Que., not far from Mont-Gabriel, said he misses having Bilodeau with the team this season both as a friend and a competitor.

But he is not lacking in confidence.

When asked if he was ready to become the team's new leader, he smiled and said "Yeah, a rookie leader.

"I'm growing up fast, getting more maturity. I have a lot of experience of going on the podium. I have 17 World Cup starts and 12 podiums. That's good. I was at last year's world championships, one level under the Olympics, and I was second in the world behind Alex. I had a lot of pressure there. I like big events. I like pressure. I like people telling me I'm one of the favourites, to be in the spotlight."

Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association, said Kingsbury is the real deal.

"You keep saying we're going to get one exceptional kid in our lifetime and then you get Jean-Luc (Brassard), then Alex and then another one," said Judge. "We're very fortunate that we have this culture of success and this culture of moguls skiing, especially in Quebec, that has fostered these phenoms.

"Mikael's probably one of the best combinations of all things that we've ever seen out of those guys. The big thing now is to manage him properly, to make sure he has the duration of a career that Alex is headed towards and that Jean-Luc had. He has the potential. He's smart, a very good tactician, and he's got the goods. He can go out and bang it home, run after run. The level of consistency at his age is amazing."

The women's dual moguls is also on Saturday, where American Olympic champion Hannah Kearney is tops now that Canadian star Jennifer Heil has retired. Heil ended her career by sweeping moguls and dual moguls at the world championships in February, for which she was voted The Canadian Press female athlete of 2011 by sports editors across the country.

Now sisters Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal are Canada's best hopes.

"There's no competition between sisters," 20-year Chloe said of her 17-year-old sister. "If it's not my day, I'm happy for Justine. It's always been like that.

"Jennifer was the most important Canadian. There is a space missing. But we're trying to do our best to continue to make the same vibes."

The aerials competition is on Sunday.

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