The Canadian moguls team headed to Finland this week for final preparations before the World Cup campaign kicks off later this month, but former world champion Kristi Richards was not among that group.
That’s because Richards is planning to take the year away from competition to recharge before the Freestyle World Ski Championships and Olympics in the two winters to follow.
“I’m calling it a training year,” Richards said Tuesday (Nov. 29) from her home in Pemberton. “I see it as an opportunity to do just that. When you’re in competitions and week-to-week you’re in a new place, you don’t really have the chance to work on those technical pieces.
“I’m really excited to be able to have this opportunity and time to do it.”
Richards will return to the team and take on a full schedule in 2012-’13. The bronze medalist from this year’s world championships cited Olympic champions like Michael Phelps and former teammate Jennifer Heil as individuals who have taken a year away and come back strong. Alex Bilodeau will be skiing a reduced schedule for the Canadian men’s team this year as well.
“We’ve seen Jennifer Heil do it twice before each Games, and she came away with medals from both Olympics,” said Richards, 30. “A lot of elite athletes are starting to look at this as a very important piece of the puzzle in the quadrennial.
“It wasn’t an easy decision for me at all. I love being in the gate, for sure, and I love being on tour. But I saw this as being the best way to leverage my position for a medal in the next Olympics.
“I see it as kind of racing your car in sixth gear all the time — your car is going to wear out after a while. Just take it down a notch, and then we can rev up when I’m ready.”
Richards said she’ll be splitting her time training between Whistler and at her home resort of Apex near her native Summerland this winter.
With Richards sitting out most of the year and Heil having retired at the end of last season, the Canadian women’s team will be a young bunch. At 24, Whistler resident Chelsea Henitiuk will be the oldest in the women’s group, coming off her first full season on the World Cup tour. She finished the season 15th in the women’s standings and recorded a career-best, eighth-place result in China early last season.
Meanwhile, Whistler resident Eddie Hicks will be looking to build off his outstanding 2010-’11 season, in which he captured the overall Nor-Am Cup title and then had a pair of top-five World Cup finishes later in the winter to finish 11th in that circuit’s standings.
Considering the way last year finished for the 23-year-old, Hicks said reaching the podium is the only acceptable result for him this season.
“With my training in the offseason and the improvements I feel I’ve made as a skier and an athlete, I’ve really got my sights set on improving my personal best result of fourth place,” Hicks said in an email from Finland this week. “My goal is to hop on the podium a couple times and challenge for top six in the Grand Prix rankings.
“Unfortunately, I felt I got a bit of a rough ride on the scoresheet at times last season, so I know if I go out and ski my best, I should be able to get the job done. My teammate Mikael Kingsbury and I have also spoken about sharing the podium numerous times, so that would be pretty cool as well.”
Hicks also noted that Bilodeau’s absence from the tour “makes a lot more room on the podium” in World Cups events this year.
The World Cup season opens Dec. 10 at Ruka, Finland while a dual moguls event goes Dec. 20 in Meribel, France for both men and women.