Teenagers Britt Cox and Matt Graham both finished in fourth place, while Australia’s most successful winter Olympian Dale Begg-Smith made an excellent return to international competition, after a three year break, with a fifth place.
Nineteen-year-old Cox was fantastic from the first run of the day when, for the first time in her World Cup career, she won the qualification round by outpointing American Olympic Champion Hannah Kearney with a performance highlighted by the equal top score for turns and the fastest time down the challenging Ruka course.
Cox continued her strong showing in the first final, for the top 16 qualifiers, by finishing the round in second place, just 0.44 points behind Japanese veteran Aiko Uemura, to advance to the six women final.
Despite another impressive run in the final she was outpointed by Kearney, the eventual winner, with Canada’s Justine Dufour Lapointe in second place and Uemura in the bronze medal place.
Graham, who finished behind the winning Canadian Mikael Kingsbury, second placed Canadian Alex Bilodeau, the 2010 Olympic champion and Japan’s Sho Endo, fought hard from 10th place in the qualification session to sit in fourth after the first final, a position he held on to in the medal round.
Cox said that her achievements were not a surprise and believes hard work, which included 15 weeks of strength and conditioning work with the AIS together with John Marsden and Jamie Youngson, has brought about the result.
“I’m not too surprised because it has definitely been a goal of mine to be skiing like I am at the moment,” Cox said.
“I’m not surprised but happy things are starting to come together and building the skills which I’m working on each week.
“This is definitely a confidence booster given that this is the first World Cup of an Olympic season.
“The quality of skiing is going to be really high. We noticed today that all the girls are bringing their A-game.
“Being fourth is so close to the podium and there is a little of the feeling that it was right there within my reach but finishing fourth is something that will make me more determined and to build upon.
“Having a great result in qualifying and finishing fourth has shown me what I’m capable of.”
Another thought which is adding to Cox’s positive outlook is the prospect of heading to Steamboat, in the United States, along with other squad members, for further training.
Cox will pay particular attention to her jumps, which she believes was the difference between third and fourth today, and to enjoy Christmas with her family, the first time she has had that opportunity since she was 13-years-old.
Graham said he has approached the new season with a number of goals including a higher level of consistency.
“Consistency has been one of my main goals this season,” Graham said. “I’ve been concentrating on putting down consistently clean runs with high quality and it seemed to pay off today.
“This has been a result of strength and conditioning work and we’ve done a lot of training camps and water ramp training this year.
“Going into this season I feel a lot fitter and stronger and we’ve spent a lot more time on snow. That has really helped me and I’m a little faster on my feet.”
Graham said that he now believes he can put pressure on the more highly fancied athletes.
“Last year I was starting to put it together and this year I wanted to carry that momentum forward and focus on execution of everything.”
Graham said that today was “overall one of my best competition days” in his developing career, on a par with his fourth place in the World Championships earlier this year.
Begg-Smith described his result as better than he expected.
“It was probably a little higher than I was expecting having not skied for three years,” Begg-Smith said.
“To be honest I wasn’t sure I would ski here. I was really here for training. I was happy with my turns and happy with the feedback from my coach. Turns have been my area of speciality.
“Here I was trying to figure out getting the jumps to work with the runs. I hadn’t even done a full run in training. I was focusing on technical things and trying to get back with the feel of things.
“Everything is a day by day thing to see how things feel. Make sure the body feels good and this morning I thought, OK, maybe I’ll go up and see how it goes and it progressed from there.
“These are not competitions I’m really focused on. Assuming everything goes well, the Olympics will be the focus.
“I’m quite happy with the way I’m skiing. It is very similar to when I left off.
“And that’s important. If I’m skiing poorly and you end up with a decent result, that’s less important than skiing the way you want to ski.”
Begg-Smith believes the reason he has been able to pick up where he left off three years ago, coincidentally at a World Cup in Ruka, is his ability to maintain his physical condition.
“I stayed in fairly good shape the whole time and that has always been the case throughout my career, that I have always been in excellent physical shape,” Begg-Smith said.
“I knew that if my body was in shape, these things will work. If you come in out of shape, it would be a much different story.”
Begg-Smith does not have any expectations for the season, preferring to look ahead “day by day.”
“I don’t have expectations. I try to focus on technical things we work on. We always take it day by day. Each competition is taken as they come. I always worked on technical things that I wanted to work on and the results will take care of themselves.”
The other Australian skiers in action on the tough Ruka course were Brodie Summers, Sam Hall, Nicole Parks and Taylah-Paige O’Neill, who finished in 18th, 55th, 30th and 35th respectively.
The mogul squad’s next World Cup event is in Calgary, Canada, on January 4.