Canada’s freestyle ski team will have a decidedly different look this season.
The likes of Justine Dufour-Lapointe, Dara Howell and Mikael Kingsbury will be there, but there was one glaring absence on the squad unveiled Wednesday.
Two-time Olympic moguls gold medallist Alex Bilodeau retired after the last World Cup season, leaving a big hole on the team as it begins the long road to the 2018 Games in South Korea.
Bilodeau became the first Canadian to win Olympic gold on home soil with his memorable victory at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and he repeated the performance in Sochi earlier this year.
Kingsbury, who battled Bilodeau for the last few years and finished second in Russia this winter, says he will miss competing against his rival.
“The first couple World Cups, I’m going to miss somebody to look up to and to learn from. He’s been a great athlete,” Kingsbury said on a conference call. “He pushed me. Since I was very young, he was my role model.”
Kingsbury is a three-time overall World Cup champion, and while he and Bilodeau were friends away from the hill, they were fierce opponents on it.
“I’m going to miss him in a way, but in another way he was one of the strongest competitors to have,” said Kinsbury, a native of Deux Montagnes, Que. “I’m going to try to have new motivation, to continue to push and work hard to stay ranked first in the world.”
Kingsbury, who turns 22 next week, said Bilodeau’s retirement doesn’t open any doors because he’s already had a lot of success in his young career.
“He was the star for sure. He won the Olympics in Vancouver — first (Canadian) gold medallist to win on home soil — and Sochi,” Kingsbury said. “He won the two days that he needed to win, but at the same time I don’t think it’s my turn to shine because I won the Crystal Globe and he was there, I won the world championship and he was there.
“At the Olympics he did his run. I tried everything I could to win but he had the run that he needed and he totally deserved it.”
Like the rest of the freestyle ski team, Kingsbury’s focus is primed on training for the coming season, with thoughts of the 2018 Olympics in South Korea also lingering.
“I just want to continue what I’ve been doing, and not do more because Alex is not there,” he said. “If he would have continued I would have been super happy and still would have worked hard to win the gold medal in 2018. That’s my next plan.
“It’s four years — four years is long. I’m going to be ready for 2018 but there’s many things to come.”
Dufour-Lapointe won gold in Sochi in women’s moguls, and will now take it one year at a time as she starts to build towards the next Games.
The same is true of teammate Audrey Robichaud, who finished 10th in the women’s moguls in Sochi.
“Personally I feel like I’m still on a high from the Olympics,” said Robichaud, a native of Quebec City. “What keeps me going is I feel like I can still get better and there’s room for improvement.”
Also headlining the Canadian team for the 2014-15 season is Howell, who topped the podium in women’s slopestyle in Sochi, Chloe Dufour-Lapointe — the silver medallist in moguls behind her younger sister at the Games — and Kim Lamarre, who finished third in slopestyle.
The other Sochi medallist on this year’s team is Mike Riddle, who took silver in halfpipe.
The rest of the Canadian freestyle team for the upcoming year includes: aerial skiers Travis Gerrits, Olivier Rochon, Jean-Christophe Andre and Sabrina Guerin; halfpipe skiers Mike Riddle, Justin Dorey, Simon d’Artois, Rosalind Groenewoud, Keltie Hansen, Megan Gunning; slopestyle skiers Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, Alex Bellemare, Evan McEachran and Kaya Turski; and moguls skiers Marc-Antoine Gagnon, Philippe Marquis and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe.
Editor's note: A previous version attributed Audrey Robichaud’s quote to Justine Dufour-Lapointe.