Mikaël Kingsbury broke his back in Finland last year. The Olympic champion returns to the same hill next week

Injuries are an unfortunate part of all high-performance sports and, fortunately, there is no shortage of inspiring comeback stories.

But how dominant must an athlete be to accept a broken back as a useful learning experience?

Incredibly dominant. And there is no other way than that to describe Canadian skier magnate Mikaël Kingsbury.

He is the current Olympic and world champion. He holds all the records in ski mogul, including the most World Cup podiums (93) and the most wins (65). He was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s Most Outstanding Athlete in 2018.

Whether it’s winning against the best in the world or coming back from injury, Kingsbury makes it look easy.

Next weekend, the 29-year-old from Deux-Montagnes, Que., Will race in the season opener in Ruka, Finland, where he broke his back last year.

He is not nervous; is excited.

“I love the country,” says Kingsbury. “It’s not because I crashed that I don’t like it anymore. I think it was just a bump in the road. “

Ruka is where he wore his first yellow number as a points leader, set several of his records and was seriously injured for the first time in his career. “Many firsts,” he says.

Last November, in a routine jump in training, he landed later than expected and “flew like Superman” in the face of the mogul he should have been skiing for. He turned at the last moment to protect his face and neck so his back would take the hit on the icy mound.

When he was told that he had fractured his T4 and T5 vertebrae, he was concerned. Of course it was. Would you return to your best form? Would you have persistent pain? How many races would he have to miss?

But as soon as he got home and worked out a rehab plan with his support team, he was already seeing the positives.

“It will be very good for me to learn from this injury,” he told himself. It will be a good experience to start from the back for a change: ‘I’ll be the hunter’. “

When he returned to competition in February, he was the chaser for exactly one race, just over 24 seconds. Once he reached the end of his qualifying run, almost unbelievably, he was leading the world again.

He won the Tycoon and Dual Tycoon World Cups in Deer Valley, Utah, nine weeks after his injury. A month later, he returned to win both events at the world championships in Kazakhstan. His first races at Deer Valley are the only time Kingsbury remembers being somewhat nervous about his return.

“Don’t crash, don’t crash,” he told himself at the top of those first few races.

He believes he was at 70 percent of his fitness level at Deer Valley, where he still put down his tough tricks on the jumps and ran to win. His coach, Michel Hamelin, thinks he was stronger than that, more like 80 percent.

It’s a terrifyingly short list of athletes who can win against the best in the world without being in their prime.

“We know it’s special,” says Hamelin.

Kingsbury trains with the help of his ski coach, fitness trainer Scott Livingston and mental performance coach Jean François Ménard, to do his best. But he’s so far ahead of the field that he often doesn’t need his best effort to win.

“It’s rare that you have to be full to win an event,” says Hamelin.

If there is a lesson in all of this for other athletes, or mere mortals trying to overcome their own challenges, according to the Kingsbury team, it is all the work that goes into years before the bump in the road.

“The way he trains sets him up to be a very robust athlete to start with,” says Livingston, who has coached Kingsbury for 12 years.

He equates it with learning to drive.

“We learned to have a certain number of car distances between us and the car in front of us so as not to hit the bumper. The same goes for your physical performance. If you prepare in a proper way, where you check all the boxes, you end up having a lot of cars long, “he says.

It also helps to have a good injury. Breaking bones in the spine sounds scary enough, but Kingsbury’s injury wasn’t complicated, Livingston says. In fact, it is the same type of fracture that people suffer when their feet slide underneath them on an icy sidewalk and crash onto their back.

Still, Kingsbury had never been injured before, so Ménard was concerned, albeit briefly, about how he might react.

“There is always a first time in everything, even a first injury,” he says. “But it doesn’t usually come after Olympic medals, World Cup records and crystal globes.”

Mikael Kingsbury, seen here competing in 2019, will start the season at No.6 due to a shortened season due to injuries.

As soon as he spoke to him, Ménard could see that Kingsbury, an obsessed winner, was going to “win in rehab,” so he too switched to lesson mode.

“I’m a big believer that you get tougher mentally by having to find ways, be creative to have the right mindset in times when you’re not supposed to have a positive attitude or have challenges,” says Ménard, who posted a book entitled: “Train your brain like an Olympian”.

“For Mik, things have gone quite well in his career, he has great parents, a great education. He has never had any major issues to deal with and this was a huge challenge for him. Not only to overcome the injury and regain health, but to come back (so strong). Not only did he win those four competitions, he really dominated, ”he says.

“It’s an extra, very important experience that you now have in your back pocket that you can remember, especially this year when you go to the Olympics and say, ‘Hey, I was able to achieve something that was very difficult. So there’s no reason why I can’t win the Games again. ‘ “

Due to his shortened season due to injuries, Kingsbury begins this Olympic season in sixth place. It is the first time that he will ski in Ruka without the leader’s yellow number since he was 18 years old, two, almost three, Olympic cycles.

“Okay,” he says. “Six is ​​great, it’s Toronto. I’m going to play some Drake songs. ”

If history is a lesson, Kingsbury may be humming on Drake’s 6ix, but he’ll be back at No. 1 soon.

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