There was a bit of redemption last weekend on opposite sides of the globe. Two skiers who left Sochi unfulfilled moved back into the spotlight and back into the World Cup lead. And while the audience was a few million less than the Olympics, it still did their hearts proud.
Moguls skier Hannah Kearney did leave Sochi with a medal. Her bronze wasn't the repeat gold she had worked towards the last four years. Nonetheless, it was still a second medal. Through flowing tears, though, it was hard to convince herself that she was still best in the world.
"You don't prepare for this moment -- you prepare for success," said a heartbroken Kearney after the Olympic medals round. "But life does not always go according to plan. Usually there is a reason. And you learn from it. I knew if I didn't win a gold I would be very disappointed. It meant I did something incorrectly. I worked really hard the last four years."
Sunday in Inawashiro, Japan, Kearney was smiling again. Her dual moguls win put her back atop the FIS World Cup moguls standings and finally gave her a win on one of the few World Cup courses that had stymied her over the years.
"There's always an element of luck with mogul skiing," said Kearney. "I had a bad top jump yesterday after I hit the mogul, exploded and lost my ski. It was definitely rough but it was up to me to not feel sorry for myself after a few bad results. I talked to all my coaches today and I knew I needed to just focus on my skiing skills and getting down the course. Not the yellow bib, or the globe or the Olympics or my retirement. And turns out I had a much better result."
As hard as it was for Kearney to accept Olympic bronze, for cross country skier Kikkan Randall the Olympics were devastating. Clearly the best sprinter in the world, she was caught off guard in the opening heat, losing a precious spot at the finish line and failing to advance. Her Olympics were over in the blink of an eye.
Saturday it was back to work sprinting on the World Cup the tour she's won the last two years. She worked her way craftily through the heats, taking the win in Lahti, Finland, with a strong finishing sprint. Best of all, she brought along teammate Sophie Caldwell in third the first double podium in U.S. women's history.
"Today's result was very special to the team," said coach Matt Whitcomb. "A double podium after what for some was a disappointing several weeks in Russia is what can happen to a buoyant team. Everyone has kept their heads up and eyes wide open, awake, always positive and ready to take the next hard swing. It feels good to hit one or two out of the park again and I'm not afraid to say we've missed that feeling."
The smile was slowly returning to Kikkan's face over the weekend in Lahti. There was a spring in her stride as she warmed up for the heats. With each progressive round, you could see the good feelings returning. And by time the finals came around, she was ready to return.
Caldwell, meanwhile, became the first American woman aside from Randall to score a podium finish in modern time. It was further validation that she's a force to be reckoned with on the World Cup. She came into Sochi without expectation and challenged for a sprint medal before a crash took her out.
Like Kearney, the win boosted Randall back into the lead with a pair of classic races remaining. And while no Olympic medals were awarded in Japan or Finland, the wins buoyed the athletes in the homestretch of the World Cup season.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.