U.S. freestylers on the rise in Lake Placid
WILMINGTON – The Americans have reason to be optimistic in the moguls event when the USANA Lake Placid Freestyle Cup returns to Whiteface Mountain Thursday.
In the most recent World Cup on Dec. 22 in Kreischberg, Austria, U.S. mogul skiers Bryon Wilson and Heather McPhie both won gold medals. Fellow American Heidi Kloser took second place.
The win was the first ever on the World Cup circuit for Wilson, of Butte, Mont., and the second in a row for McPhie, of Bozeman, Mont.
Wilson, who took bronze in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, said the December win gave him confidence in his ability and he hopes that carries over to this competition.
“I’m hoping that I can have a similar performance here in Placid,” Wilson said. “I’ve been really feeling strong this season, and hopefully I can lay down my more difficult jumps and hopefully come out with another good finish.”
“I’ve always done pretty well here at Whiteface. I have gotten three or four top 10s here, and it’s always been good to me.”
The race also marks the return of Hannah Kearney, who has had plenty of success at Whiteface Mountain. Kearney, a 2010 Vancouver Olympics gold-medal winner, has won the past three mogul competitions here.
She also broke the record for consecutive freestyle World Cup victories last year at Whiteface when she won her 11th straight there. Kearney finished last year first overall in the World Cup standings and strung together 16 straight wins.
This will be the first competition of the season for Kearney, who broke her ribs and suffered internal injuries in a training crash in October. There have been two World Cup races so far this season.
“I expect to ski well,” Kearney said after training Tuesday. “My injury was the sort that allowed me to still train in the gym and get real strong. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to ski at the level that I left off at, so I’m looking forward to skiing well and skiing three runs.”
Kearney grew up and lives in Norwich, Vt. She lives at the Olympic Training Complex in Lake Placid during the summer and is very familiar with the terrain at Whiteface.
“This is my first time back, but nothing like some time away to make you more grateful,” she said.
Another skier looking to have a big day is Bryon’s younger brother Bradley Wilson. The younger Wilson is coming off a season in which he was named FIS Rookie of the Year, and has started the winter season strong once again. Bradley Wilson took sixth place in Finland on Dec. 15, followed by a seventh-place finish in Germany.
He’s excited to be back on his home turf in North America, where he feels the Americans have an advantage.
“Something about being in the U.S. competing almost gives us a home-field advantage,” he said. “We don’t have to deal with jet lag. We don’t have to deal with culture changes. We’re kind of used to it, we’ve grown up with this, so hopefully it will show up in our results.”
American Brian Zemba grew up in the small Westchester County village of Croton-on-Hudson before moving to Killington, Vt. That means he’s been to Whiteface plenty of times in the past. He even came to this particular event and dreamed of competing in it.
“I grew up skiing this course on the regional level and now to come back here and to be wearing the USA colors is an awesome feeling,” Zemba said.
The race will be Zemba’s first World Cup in the United States, after he got his first taste of World Cup action last winter in Europe.
For those interested in seeing the moguls competition, it will be televised by NBC on Sunday at 3 p.m. along with additional coverage on NBC Sports Network on Sunday and Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. It will also be broadcast live on the USSA Network at www.usskiteam.com from 1:45 to 3:15 p.m. The aerials competition, which takes place Friday and Saturday at the Olympic Skiing Complex in Lake Placid.
The moguls competition kicks off at 9:15 a.m. Thursday with the women’s qualification rounds. The men’s qualification rounds follow. The semifinals start at 1:45 p.m. with the women once again starting off the action and being followed by the men. The event is scheduled to finish at 3 p.m.