Kearney Back In Gold

By Peggy Shinn | Jan. 17, 2013, 7 p.m. (ET)

Hannah Kearney winning gold medal in moguls World Cup at Whiteface at the Lake Placid Freestyle World Cup 
Hannah Kearney takes first place in the USANA Freestyle World Cup ladies' moguls competition at Whiteface Mountain on January 17, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York. Nikola Sodova #4 of the Czech Republic (L) took second place, and Brittany Cox #9 of Austria (R) took third place.

WILMINGTON, N.Y. — Team USA had a gold, silver, bronze day at the Lake Placid Freestyle World Cup.

In her first World Cup since a hard crash landed her in a Swiss hospital in October, Hannah Kearney took over where she left off last season: winning. The Olympic gold medalist dominated qualifying, the semifinal, and super final (top 12 qualify for the semifinal, then top six for the super final). She won with a 23.53. Nikola Sudova from the Czech Republic was second with a 22.36 and Brittney Cox from Australia third with 21.62.

For Kearney, it was a mental victory. Her October training crash on the glacier above Zermatt left her with two broken ribs, a bruised liver, and collapsed lung — though the latter was just a “tiny tiny little puncture,” she said. She was evacuated by helicopter — what she described as the scariest part of the whole injury — and lay in a Swiss hospital for five days. Then she couldn’t fly home for two weeks until her lung had healed.

Once she was home in Norwich, Vermont, the 26-year-old skier was only allowed to ride an indoor spin bike for hours on end. Doctors did not clear her to ski until December 17, and she could not resume jumping until January 1.

Kearney came to Lake Placid with only seven days of what she calls “full training” under her belt, and her confidence was not high. But in her qualifying run, she landed her back layout cleanly, skied the bumps with her trademark technical precision, then landed her bottom air, helicopter 360, cleanly. She pumped her fist once as she crossed the finish line, the ends of her pigtails bouncing alongside her helmet.

Her semifinal and final runs were more on the edge, but she skied cleanly enough to for victory.

“I’m happy to have been able to push myself and not let the injury affect me at all,” said a relieved Kearney after awards.

The win put her into eighth in the World Cup moguls standings with 100 points. Despite struggling in qualifying and not moving on to semis, Heather McPhie retained the overall World Cup lead with 200 points from her two wins in December. But Kearney is hot on her tails.

Hannah Kearney winning gold medal in moguls World Cup at Whiteface at the Lake Placid Freestyle World Cup 
Hannah Kearney takes first place in the USANA Freestyle World
Cup ladies' moguls competition at Whiteface Mountain on January
17, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York.

“I’m at a severe disadvantage [in points] at the moment, but it’s also a fun challenge,” said Kearney. “All the years that I’ve won [the overall], I’ve won the first World Cup. I’ve had the lead the entire time. I’ve never had to climb up. There’s nothing like feeling like everyone is chasing you, and you’re like, ‘Are they going to catch me by the end?’ Now I get to be in that position.

“But the focus is skiing well because you don’t get anything unless you ski well.”

More medals came for Team USA in the men’s moguls competition, where former world champion Patrick Deneen did what coach Garth Hager says he likes to do: go fast and jump big.

“When it all goes well, it goes well for him,” said Hager.

And it went well. Deneen, 25, came thundering across the finish in the final, going so fast that he slid under the finish corral fence and landed directly in the media zone. The run put him in second behind overall World Cup leader Mikael Kingsbury from Canada. This was Deneen’s first World Cup moguls podium since the Lake Placid Freestyle World Cup last year.

“The conditions are always unpredictable here in Lake Placid,” said Deneen, a former equestrian who used to compete in reining. “I think I ski really well on tough conditions, so I get a lot of podiums here.”

Dylan Walczyk from Breckenridge, Colo., was the surprise bronze medalist. The 19-year-old was competing in his first World Cup and only made the start list after teammate Jeremy Cota injured his heel and couldn’t ski.

“I wasn’t expecting much,” said Walczyk, a young man of few words. “I was just going to go out and ski, and I did. It worked out good. I’m super happy.”

“He’s very talented,” said Hager. “It’s just a matter of being able to perform when it counts. Now we have to figure out when he can ski next. He’s not qualified for next week’s World Cup in Calgary or the Deer Valley World Cup yet.”

But Kearney is, and the Olympic champ can’t wait to jump back on the World Cup tour. After four days at home in Vermont, she will head to Calgary, Deer Valley, Sochi … and beyond.

“With the confidence I gained today,” she said with a smile, “I’m looking forward to a fantastic season.”

Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

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