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Hannah Kearney Retires On Top

By Peggy Shinn | March 16, 2015, 7:27 p.m. (ET)

Hannah Kearney celebrates with her gold medal during the medal ceremony for the women's moguls at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 14, 2010.

As Hannah Kearney skied into the starting gate of her final world cup mogul competition on Sunday, she thought of Donna Weinbrecht. This race — a dual mogul event — would be her last chance to tie the 1992 Olympic gold medalist’s record of 46 world cup wins.

Kearney also had to win if she wanted to secure her fourth overall freestyle world cup title.

“OK, this is it,” she told herself. “Don’t have any regrets about skiing too slowly or not well enough on this last run.”

No regrets at all. Kearney pumped her fist twice after crossing the finish line. She tied Weinbrecht’s record and won two more crystal globes — for the overall world cup moguls and freestyle titles.

“It was a fairytale ending to win both globes,” said Kearney.

And it was a fairytale career for the 29-year-old from Norwich, Vermont. Although other freestyle stars have brought more pizzazz to the sport — such as Jonny Moseley and his breakthrough “dinner roll” jump — Kearney brought a metronomic consistency to moguls that made rocketing through the bumps look easy.

From her four junior world championship titles in 2002 and 2003 to her 46 world cup wins, Kearney was always a favorite to land on the podium. As teammate Eliza Outtrim said, “If we competed as often as some of the alpiners do, she would probably be the most decorated athlete on the team.”

As one of freestyle skiing’s most heralded stars exits stage left, here’s a look at her trophy cabinet:

Hannah Kearney competes in dual moguls at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Feb. 8, 2014 in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

World Cup Wins

From December 2003 until March 2015, Kearney competed in 119 world cups, winning 46 and tying Weinbrecht’s win record. She also surpassed Weinbrecht’s 70 podium placements by one.

“I know the dedication, drive and goal setting that it takes to become a record holder,” said Weinbrecht. “When you get to a place where you have won everything there is to win in the sport, you really focus point blank on doing the best you can each world cup. For me, I was looking at (alpine skier Alberto) Tomba. He had 50 wins at the time, so I was looking at that. It is amazing to constantly bring yourself up win after win. It takes a lot.”

Kearney’s favorite world cup wins were her first and her last. At her first in Naeba, Japan, on Feb. 22, 2004, she won and four teammates finished 3-4-5-6. The men also swept the podium. It was the most dominant American performance in which Kearney took part.

Of her final world cup win in Megeve, France, on Sunday, she said, “it’s the one I’ll remember the most.”

“Having my mother there, she drove me to Waterville Valley for my very first mogul competition ever, and here she is at my last world cup. Seeing my two teammates win Rookie of the Year was a nice hope for the future, too.” (Morgan Schild and Tom Rowley were named FIS Rookies of the Year.)

World Cup “Batting Average”

In addition to her 46 world cup wins, Kearney finished on the podium 25 other times, for a total of 71 podiums.

Were moguls baseball, her batting average would have been 0.597. And every time she was “at bat,” she had a 38.7 percent chance of hitting a home run (aka winning). 

By comparison, Lindsey Vonn has competed in 340 world cups to date and finished on the podium in 32.6 percent of those races. And she has won only 19.1 percent.

Winning Streak

From January 2011 through February 2012, Kearney won 16 consecutive world cups and eclipsed alpine legend Ingemar Stenmark’s record for the longest FIS World Cup win streak.

Until she neared the end of this streak, Kearney had no idea that there was such a record.

Overall Titles

In 2011 Kearney won her first world cup freestyle overall title (she won her first moguls overall title in 2009). Since then, she has amassed 10 crystal globes: six smaller globes for the moguls title and four large ones for the freestyle overall crown.

Of the 10, which is the most special?

The overall title in 2013. Kearney came back from broken ribs, a punctured lung and lacerated liver to win the overall world cup title after missing the first two competitions.

“It represents all the things that make sport interesting, overcoming an injury, then coming back from that, being the underdog, (or rather) having a deficit at the beginning of the season,” she said.

The same might be said for this season. Until mid-February, she was in second place overall in the standings. But a win in Justine Dufour-Lapointe’s home country of Canada was the shot of confidence that Kearney needed to regain the lead — and stay there.

“Hannah’s a piece of work,” said Garth Hager, head moguls coach. “She does very well at being confident. When she’s determined, nobody else in the world has a chance against her.”

World Championship Medals

In January, Kearney tweeted a photo of herself wearing her eight FIS World Championship medals and said, “Like Michael Phelps, but from 5 World Championships, not one Olympics. And not all gold. ‪#sonotmuchlikemichaelphelps”

Maybe #notmuchlikeMichaelPhelps but #verymuchlikeHannahKearney. She has the most world championship medals in freestyle history, including three golds (2005, 2013 and 2015). And she has the most of any U.S. skier in any discipline, including alpine.

Of her eight medals, which one is she the proudest of having won?

“I’m not going to say the first one,” said Kearney, of her first trip to worlds when she was 18. “I just kind of waltzed in and, ‘Oh worlds, what’s worlds? OK, I won worlds.’”

After pausing, she said that her most recent worlds gold medal — won in dual moguls in January 2015 — brought her satisfaction. She had lost to Dufour-Lapointe the previous day in the moguls competition and was happy to find redemption in the head-to-head dual moguls format.

“And the fact that I had never won that medal,” Kearney added.

Olympic Gold

Kearney went to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games as the defending moguls world champion and the overwhelming favorite.

She had been there before — and it hadn’t turned out well. At the Torino Games four years earlier, Kearney was also the reigning world champion and many thought that the gold medal was hers to lose.

And that’s exactly what she did. High expectations and added media attention made for a bumpy ride in Torino. Her only other experience with the Olympics had been watching the Games on TV. In real life, she realized that there were no heart-warming stories, no fanfare, no music playing in the background. Kearney did not even qualify for the Olympic final in 2006.

But at the 2010 Winter Games, Kearney was the epitome of poise under pressure. On a rainy night, she skied a flawless final run and claimed her Olympic gold medal.

“Performing when I was supposed to four years after I failed was the ultimate redemption for me,” she said.

Olympic Bronze

Four years later in Sochi, disappointment struck again. In an instant in Sochi, when her left ski briefly shot out to the side, Olympic alchemy turned what was otherwise a gold-medal run into bronze. Defending her gold medal is one of the few goals that Kearney failed to meet in her career. And she still has a hard time swallowing the word “bronze.”

“You like to live without any regrets, and I don’t have any serious ones,” she said. “But if I had to analyze it to death, I could probably come up with something to change.”

Career Favorite Moments

“There are so many,” she said.

Weird things, like cooking reindeer meat on a hot stone in Sweden. And the bakery in Åre, Sweden. And the times spent with teammates.

And she will forever remember walking into the Opening Ceremony at the Vancouver Games.

“This celebration is for us and for the world,” she realized. “That was a really pleasant feeling. It’s something that I would like to be a part of again in some capacity.”

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008. 

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Hannah Kearney