Mikael Kingsbury kept trying to convince himself the Olympics were just another event. That his legacy as one of the greatest moguls skiers ever didn't necessarily rely on his performance in Pyeongchang.
Then the 25-year-old Canadian woke up Monday morning with jitters in his stomach. The kind that don't go away. Not even for a six-time world champion.
"I've never been nervous like that in my life," Kingsbury said, adding he put so much pressure on himself "it was crazy."
He found sanity and peace in a familiar spot: atop his skis atop a mountain looking down at a course he knew he could dominate like he has so many others during his long run atop his sport. One that doesn't appear ready to end anytime soon. Not with gold around Kingsbury's neck and the world at his feet.
Kingsbury stomped his way to the top of the podium in the men's finals on Monday night, posting a score of 86.63 during his final run, the best of any in the three elimination rounds. He let loose after crossing the finish line, pumping his fist wildly.
Four years ago, a slight wobble in the finals allowed good friend Alex Bilodeau to slip by him for the gold. While Kingsbury didn't see the silver medal he earned in Sochi as a disappointment, stressing he was "just a kid" in 2014, he arrived in South Korea as a heavy favorite.
Anything less than finishing atop the podium would have provided an asterisk to his otherwise remarkable (and still burgeoning) career.
A daring dash at frigid and snowy Phoenix Snow Park left little doubt about his place in a discipline can best be described as elegant chaos.
Skiers race down the 250-meter course littered with bumps as fast as they can, well as fast as they can with their knees basically stapled together. Jumps near the top and the bottom of the course are thrown in for good measure, forcing competitors to go from 0 to 60 back to 0 before doing it all over again.
No racer seems as firmly under control as Kingsbury.
"He's hands-down one of, if not the, greatest person to grace the sport," said American Casey Andringa, who reached the finals before finishing fifth. "For him not to win a gold medal tonight, I would've been sad."
Matt Graham of Australia took silver and Daichi Hara of Japan earned bronze, each picking up the first medal of the games for their countries. Hara's bronze was the first medal by an Asian athlete in moguls, which became a permanent Olympic event in 1992.
Kingsbury cruised through the opening round of qualifying on Friday and spent the weekend trying to keep everything as normal as possible. Still, he knew it wasn't. The long wait for Monday evening seemed endless. Only when Kingsbury clipped in on the biggest night of his professional life did he exhale.
He started slowly, playing it safe during the opening rounds of finals. He was fourth in the first round and second to Hara in the second.
Kingsbury, however, is able to reach a gear his rivals can't match when the pressure is turned up. He took a deep breath before his final run and attacked the course that claimed several of the top skiers in the world. The list included Japan's Ikuma Horishima, who had ended Kingsbury's record 13-race winning streak last month.
Not this time. Kingsbury wears a T-shirt that reads "It's Good To Be The King" underneath his skiing gear for a reason. He competes with a swagger and athleticism that leaves his opponents shaking their heads.
"What he does is just incredible," Andringa said. "I'm sure everyone here has studied it, trying to crack the code, and I just don't know if there is a code. I don't think that anyone is going to beat him trying to replicate what he does."
When Kingsbury crossed the orange line, he seemed to know the gold was his even before the scoreboard confirmed it.
"You know you didn't have any mistakes and you just hope the judges agree," Kingsbury said. "You've dreamed about that moment all your life."
One that ended just the way Kingsbury envisioned as a kid: with himself on the top step of the podium, gold around his neck and the Canadian flag draped over his shoulders.
"Coming out here and winning the gold medal solidified him as the greatest ever," Graham said. "Tell me someone else who comes out and wins 55 percent of events he's entered. He's changed the sport."
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