When we last saw Patrick Deneen, he was sliding across the finish line after falling on his go-for-broke final jump in moguls at the 2010 Winter Olympics at Cypress Mountain.
It was a crushing result for the 2009 world champion Deneen, competing just hours from his family home in Cle Elum. Deneen wound up tied for last in a moguls competition in which he was considered a favorite to medal, if not win, as the top American in the sport.
American men’s moguls skiers have made the Olympic podium every year but one (1994) since it became a medal sport in 1992. U.S. skier Bryon Wilson was the surprise bronze medalist in 2010.
Four years later, Deneen, 26, is again the top American, again a medal favorite, and again just as optimistic as ever.
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But there’s a difference, he said, and he hopes that means a podium at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Monday.
“I’ve just gotten better and more consistent,” he said by phone last month, shortly before clinching his Olympic berth with a World Cup runner-up finish. “I’m really confident.”
Don’t think Deneen has spent much time ruing his decision to go for it with a less-than-perfected jump at Cypress. He has said he’d do the same jump again.
With four more years of training and competition, he has found a groove: In 15 World Cup competitions since February 2012, Deneen has 14 top-10 finishes. Seven have won him medals — six coming in the past year.
Deneen is known for his speed and turns, which count for 75 percent of total score. The remaining 25 percent is jumps, subjectively judged, not a favorite part of the sport for Deneen. But he said his ski level is so high right now that he doesn’t have to ski his best for a World Cup medal.
“I can ski at 70 percent and be on the podium,” he said.
But that, of course, won’t do. Not when he has a Canadian juggernaut to crack.
Deneen is third in the World Cup standings behind Canadian stars Mikael Kingsbury, the reigning world champion, and defending Olympic gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau. Deneen placed third behind both in last year’s world championships.
Looking for that breakthrough, Deneen has added a new jump this year: the Cork 10, an off-axis, three-rotation jump.
It’s not as consistent as he’d like yet, and it can’t always be fine-tuned in competition.
“For the men, there’s a little more gamesmanship — when to pull out the big tricks, and when to be consistent,” he said.
He has been consistent in other ways, too. Deneen, who grew up on a horse-and-hay farm, maintains strong family ties.
His dad, Pat, a former ski area manager who put him on skis at 11 months old, still helps coach him and travels occasionally. This year, leading up to the Olympics, the younger Deneen was on the road all but two months. Travel to Sochi won’t be a big change.
“I say I still live at home with my parents because that’s where my dog is,” he said.
Both parents are planning to make the trip to Sochi, a rarity for most athletes’ parents because getting to Sochi is difficult and expensive, and many are worried about terrorism.
Not Deneen’s mom, Nancy. She and other parents met with U.S. ski team officials during an event in Deer Valley, Utah.
“I think we’ll be pretty protected,” she said. “The venues for the mogul event is not a huge venue. There’s not going to be a lot of spectators.”
Nancy Deneen prefers to think about Patrick’s performance instead. She shares his optimism.
“I’m looking forward to just being at the event, watching him ski and watching him get his medal,” Nancy said.