Park City • Hannah Kearney’s patented pig-tails poked out of the back of her helmet as the cold wind finally caught up with the U.S. Ski Team star. Below the moguls run at Deer Valley Resort, appropriately dubbed Champion, the 27-year-old defending Olympic gold medalist shivered briefly as the frigid night delivered its deep cut.
But she suddenly warmed. Minutes after winning another World Cup freestyle gold in Park City — her sixth on the hill at Deer Valley — the Vermont native smiled. Her shot at defending her 2010 gold in Vancouver is mere weeks away with the Sochi Games set to kick off Feb. 7.
Freestyle moguls results
1. Hannah Kearney, USA (82.76)
2. Chloe Dufour-LaPointe, Canada (78.16)
3. Justine Dufour-LaPointe, Canada (77.76)
4. Heather McPhie, USA (77.66)
5. Maxime Dufour-LaPointe, Canada (72.80)
6. Nikola Sudova, CZE (70.23)
1. Mikael Kingsbury, Canada (87.96)
2. Alex Bilodeau, Canada (84.30)
3. Marc-Antoine Gagnon, Canada (82.83)
4. Dmitriy Reiherd, KAZ (80.36)
5. Troy Murphy, USA (58.36)
6. Patrick Deneen, USA (DNF)
World Cup freestyle skiing
O At Deer Valley Resort, Park City
Friday, 7 p.m. » Men’s and Women’s aerials finals
Olympic Fever is settling in.
"It’s catching on now," Kearney said. "Before, you can’t think about it too much — you’ve got to just ski. But now I can start thinking about it and preparing."
She can because she dominated again. In her 38th career World Cup victory in her 100th career World Cup start, Kearney burned the bumps at Deer Valley — in the qualifying runs, final and SuperFinal. Her 57th podium appearance could soon turn into 58 Saturday when another World Cup event on Champion run will take place.
Finishing ahead of Canadian siblings Chloe and Justine Dufour-LaPointe, Kearney was glad to be rewarded by the judges for a riskier run than normal. Describing it as a "little bit out of control," the moguls star knew she had to charge after a second-place finish in Calgary on Jan. 4.
After the event in Alberta, she was asked if she was holding back. Compliments of her consistency began to pour out. But to Kearney, one of the world’s most technical and meticulous mogul athletes, "consistent" is "just another phrase for, ‘You’re not trying hard enough,’" she explained.
Now four years removed from her gilded performance in British Columbia, Kearney is primed for another go at gold, and she’ll have to deliver her very best.
"Hannah’s absolutely amazing," said U.S. freestyle program director Todd Sherman. "She comes out here and she wants to improve on her runs every single time. She doesn’t care about anybody else and how anybody else skis, she just wants to improve on each run each day, and she’s a true champion."
Staying atop the sport through difficult World Cup seasons and World Championships leading up to the next Olympic cycles is what Kearney has envisioned. In the 2011 World Championships at Deer Valley, she reeled in a silver in moguls and bronze in dual moguls.
"I didn’t suffer from any lack of motivation the last four years," she said. "Just keep going, I guess. Keep rolling with it."
Sherman sees an athlete in her prime, an Olympian whose performances are being kept above the cream of the crop due to her improvement of all facets of her training.
"She’s not only dominant on the hill, but she’s dominant in the gym, she’s dominant with her psychology — she checks off all the boxes," he said. "I don’t see anything slowing her down right now."
The men’s moguls finals was sheer Canadian flair. Emerging star Mikael Kingsbury won gold, while fellow Canadians Alex Bilodeau and Marc-Antoine Gagnon finished second and third, respectively. Twenty-one-year-old World Cup rookie Troy Murphy qualified for his first career World Cup SuperFinal, finishing fifth, while American Patrick Deneen finished sixth when he crashed atop the run.
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