CALGARY — Mikael Kingsbury cannot remember who gave him the T-shirt, but the first time he wore it at a World Cup moguls event he came away with a silver medal.
He was 18 at the time, and it was his first World Cup podium. Since then, Kingsbury has pulled on the shirt — which features in block letters the caption “It’s Good To Be The King” — every time he’s raced.
It’s hard to argue with the slogan or the results.
Incredibly, the Deux-Montagnes, Que., freestyle skier has earned 66 medals, including 45 golds, in 83 World Cup starts. Which means the T-shirt, even after seven years’ worth of washings, remains a must-wear.
“Kind of cool — it’s black, but almost grey now,” Kingsbury, now 25, said Thursday afternoon at Canada Olympic Park. “And all the letters are falling apart. But that’s OK.”
Because Kingsbury and his lucky charm dominate his sport.
He’s captured six consecutive World Cup season titles. He’s won 10 consecutive World Cup events, including all three this season — one in Finland, two in China — heading into Saturday’s action in Calgary.
“He’s chasing records,” said Marc-Andre Moreau, the high-performance director for Freestyle Canada. “Every time he steps up to the gate now, he’s beating a record, he’s setting something – and he’s the only one setting it. He loves that.”
All of which makes Kingsbury a clear favourite for the Olympic Games, only weeks away in Pyeongchang, South Korea. A year ago, he aced the test event there.
“For sure, you have the Olympics in the back of your head all the time,” said Kingsbury. “But I’m trying to go one race at a time … then gradually build up the momentum for the Olympic Games. I’m on the right track.”
At the 2014 Winter Games, Kingsbury settled for silver, finishing behind countryman Alexandre Bilodeau.
“He learned a lot from Sochi, it was his first Olympic experience,” said Moreau. “For sure, Mik is going there to win, that is his goal, obviously. He’s got everything else (in the sport).”
When he was nine years old, Kingsbury stencilled the Olympic rings onto a piece of paper, adding the words, “Je vais gagne!” He tacked this bold promise — “I will win!” — to the ceiling of his bedroom, where it remains.
“I’m going to leave it there forever,” he said. “Well, not forever. Til I win.”
Kingsburg has reached the level where anything less than Olympic gold would be disappointing.
“I know people expect a lot from me,” said Kingsbury. “I’ve created a high standard because I’ve won a lot. It’s pretty much the position everyone wants to be in.
“I’m ready for this. I love the situation I’m in right now.”
Expectations don’t rattle him. Pressure, for him, is fuel.
“It’s fun,” said Kingsbury. “It’s like a drug for me. You kind of want it every weekend. I just love that feeling. I love that competition feeling, that stress.”
Moreau said you don’t need to see Kingsbury in action to know he’s different.
At the top of the course, in the minutes before a race, most skiers hunker down in a quiet spot to visualize their turn. Not Kingsbury.
“Mik’s going to watch the competitors,” said Moreau. “He’s going to ask his coach questions, ‘How fast was he going? What’s the score for that guy?’ That really helps him to set his strategy and his plan. He embraces that.”
Kingsbury is considered the most successful men’s freestyle skier of all time. A park in his home town has been named after him.
And the superstar is still in his prime.
“For Mik, it’s like he’s playing a video game,” said Moreau. “He’s so relaxed when he does his thing and he can feel his body so much that he can adjust at the last second.
“If we watch slo-mo video, he’s doing some magic stuff. You cannot teach that. It’s like, ‘How did you do that?’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t know.’
“We’re really lucky to have a guy like this on the team.”