ZHANGJIAKOU, Hebei — Suddenly handed a phone, Walter Wallberg listened, smiled and politely thanked the voice on the other end.
It was the prime minister of Sweden calling to congratulate the newest king of moguls.
The 21-year-old Wallberg — coming off three knee surgeries in two years — turned in the biggest run of his career to upset the reigning “King” and take home the gold medal in men’s moguls at the Beijing Olympics.
Even Wallberg couldn't fully believe it as he looked in shock at his score of 83.23 on the board — and a No. 1 next to it. He edged defending Olympic champion Mikael Kingsbury of Canada on a bitterly cold Saturday night.
Wallberg picked up points for his speed over the smooth and technical skiing style of Kingsbury, whose nickname is the “King of Moguls.”
“I did a great run but I didn’t know it was going to be the best run,” Wallberg said. “Super happy when I saw the scores.”
To think, a few years ago a moguls maestro showed up to give him and other eager students some pointers.
That maestro? Kingsbury. The lessons he imparted stuck with Wallberg.
“Mik has always been an idol of mine since I started skiing moguls,” Wallberg said. “I remember asking him how he’s tuning his skis and tips in the moguls. Always been looking up to him.”
The King, though, wants his crown back.
“He gets to sit on the throne today,” cracked the 29-year-old Kingsbury, who finished with a score of 82.18. “It was a special run that he did. He deserves it. Very happy for him. I've known Walter for a long time and I told him, ‘Welcome to the club.’
“I’ll keep going. I love what I do. I’ll keep working hard for the next few years.”
Ikuma Horishima of Japan took home the bronze. As the athletes were positioning themselves for the post-contest pictures, Kingsbury looked almost confused where to stand and switched places with Horishima. Clearly, Kingsbury’s not used to finishing second.
It took a splendid run to knock off the skier who's the gold standard in moguls. He takes some solace in that.
“I tried to do what I thought I needed to do to win and good on him,” Kingsbury said. “I felt like I’ve done my job and I was happy. When I saw him cross the line I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, he's just done a very good one.’”
Wallberg’s surprise victory interrupts the men's moguls dominance of Team Canada, which had won the event in the last three Winter Games.
This was Wallberg’s first major win on the senior circuit. He's never even won a World Cup event, but he has finished on the World Cup podium four times this season. That includes an event before the Winter Games in Deer Valley, Utah, behind Horishima and Kingsbury.
Nick Page led the Americans with a fifth-place finish. The last American man to win a medal in the event was Bryon Wilson (bronze) at the 2010 Vancouver Games. The last American man to take home gold was Jonny Moseley in 1998.
Kingsbury entered the night as the overwhelming favorite — always is these days. Just watch the red patterns below the knees set against his white snow pants to understand why: The patterns rarely move.
But Wallberg proved speedier along the course. The last racer to go on the Secret Garden Olympic course, he pumped his fist in excitement after his run and raised the goggles to check out the scoreboard.
The new king liked what he saw. Later, he liked what he heard from the prime minister.
“We were talking about how the restrictions in Sweden are gone," Wallberg said with a smile. "So it’s probably going to be a special (celebration). So I thanked her for that.”