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Kearney Wins First U.S. Gold in 2010
CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, BC Second time's a shiny, gold-plated charm for Hannah Kearney (Norwich, VT), who won the first gold medal for the United States at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in women's freestyle moguls Saturday night. Kearney edged Canadian favorite Jennifier Heil with a breathtaking final run, while Shannon Bahrke (Tahoe City, CA) added a bronze medal to her silver in 2002.
"I heard the roar of the crowd, I heard Jenn, and I knew I had to ski the best run of my life," said Kearney, who did just that by laying down a 26.63 on the biggest stage when she needed it most. "That was the highest score I've ever had."
Following a disappointing 22nd as a 19-year-old favorite in 2006, Kearney won the 2009 World Cup overall title last season and came into the Games on the heels of a victory in Lake Placid, NY, on Jan. 21. This time around, she'd shed tears of joy.
"This summer, I'd be driving my car home and I'd get this wonderful feeling in the pit of my stomach like, 'It's gonna happen,'" said Kearney, who got a note Saturday moning from U.S. Team Strength Coach Alex Moore that outlined the work she put in to reach the Olympic stage (click this link for story). After all that hard work, winning the first U.S. gold medal of the Games was a milestone not lost on Kearney.
"That's been a huge goal of mine," she said. "Go Team USA! I really want to be a part of an Olympic montage, and I think I earned my right now.
"If this could send positive vibes and set the tone for the Americans, I'll take it."
The only other U.S. women's moguls gold medal came in Albertville, France, in 1992, when Donna Weinbrecht claimed the sport's most coveted prize. Weinbrecht was in the finish area working for Yahoo!Sports on Saturday night.
Low visibility met athletes at the top and winds whipped from their left to right, but it was par for the course after three wet training sessions all week.
"I'm actually still pretty dry thanks to my uniform, there's a tent at the top," Kearney said. "We had coaches wiping our goggles down, holding umbrellas over us. This is the Olympics, so we get the best treatment possible."
Bahrke's speedy, tight run led the final round heading into the final two skiers – favorites Heil and Kearney.
"I definitely feel like I had a few gaps," Bahrke said. "There's no doubt about it, I was going for gold, but there was so much competition out there today."
First, Heil, trying to become the first Canadian ever to claim gold on home soil with her second consecutive Olympic championship, surpassed Bahrke and the crowd noise grew to deafening levels.
As the light snow started to fall harder, Kearney stood atop the course knowing it would take a flawless run to unseat the reigning Olympic champion. It would take perfect turns, flawless jumps, and the fastest time of the night. And that's what Kearney delivered.
"Pressure is just a made-up thing," she said. "There's no such thing as pressure. I remind myself sometimes that I'm skiing because I love to ski. I'm not skiing for airtime on NBC. I'm not skiing for the fans at the bottom. I'm skiing because this is what I want to be doing."
Her knees were practically taped together through the middle section of the course, and Kearney landed a backflip at the top and a helicopter at the bottom. Her score of 26.63 beat Heil by almost a full point (.94), and Bahrke rushed to meet her in the finish area as her compatriot pumped her fists and soaked it in, literally.
Bahrke's haul of two medals is the most ever by a U.S. freestyle skier, cementing her place in the sport's history as she prepares to hang up the skis after 12 years with the U.S. Ski Team.
"This is the last hurrah," Bahrke said. "I'll finish the World Cup season and we have Nationals, but this will be my last season, and what a way to finish it.
"I've worked my butt off," she added. "I've been in the gym, and I've left no stone unturned coming into these Games."
Heather McPhie (Bozeman, MT) was flying through her second run after qualifying third, but went down after her second jump and wound up 18th. Kearney sympathized with her teammate - who is one of 14 U.S. Olympians who attend Salt Lake City's Westminster College - and thanked her for her unconditional friendship.
"She's a really supportive teammate," Kearney said. "You genuinely feel that if she can't do well, she wants you to be up there. That's why our team's so strong right now, because we're that supportive of each other. I feel for her because I've been there."
After another outstanding U.S. first run scored seventh-best in qualification, Michelle Roark (Denver) crashed after a solid 720 off the top jump in the finals. The veteran of six knee surgeries got to her feet and stomped a Bronco at the bottom as the crowd cheered the true Olympic effort.
2010 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES
Cypress Mountain, BC – Feb. 13
Women's Freestyle Moguls
Gold – Hannah Kearney, Norwich, VT, 26.63
Silver – Jennifer Heil, Canada, 25.69
Bronze – Shannon Bahrke, Tahoe City, CA, 25.43
4. Aiko Uemura, Japan, 24.68
5. Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, 23.87
17. Michelle Roark, Denver, 15.90
18. Heather McPhie, Bozeman, MT, 14.52