It’s déjà vu at moguls finals as Kearney wins 13th straight | ParkRecord.com

It’s déjà vu at moguls finals as Kearney wins 13th straight

Christopher Kamrani, The Park Record

Groundhog Day brought its mystical powers to Deer Valley Resort Thursday night. American Hannah Kearney just kept on winning. Ditto for Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury.

In the debut event of the 2012 Visa Freestyle International World Cup, Kearney, the defending Olympic champion in women’s moguls, won her 13th straight World Cup event under the lights of Deer Valley’s Champion run, defeating teammate and close friend Heather McPhie, who finished second.

Meanwhile, Kingsbury, a 19-year-old up-and-comer, dominated the men’s field, winning his sixth-straight World Cup after unleashing a vicious cork 1080 on his final run.

The story behind Kearney’s lucky No. 13 win didn’t follow its typical narrative. Going into Thursday night’s mogul finals, the Norwich, Vt., native had never trailed in any competition on the World Cup circuit so far this season. Then McPhie, a Park City resident, brought her best to her home course, the same course where she qualified for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

The mogul stars are adjusting to a new scoring format on this year’s circuit, which now features a Super Final event, rather than traditional qualifying and final rounds. In the new Super Final format, the top four skiers from the final round advance for a showdown.

No longer do scores carry over from round to round. One mistake and any top athlete could be left out in the cold, watching the Super Final round from the bottom of the hill.

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McPhie, the top qualifier going into the Super Final, earned a 24.77 in the showdown. Kearney, in an unfamiliar position, followed in second, and topped McPhie with a score of 25.21. Australia’s Britteny Cox finished third.

"I enjoyed it," Kearney said. "It was the sort of nerves that I haven’t felt in a while, but in an absolutely positive way. I’m glad I was able to take those nerves and perform well and not buckle under the pressure."

Asked if the pressure of her winning streak ever crept into the back of her mind, Kearney laughed.

"I guess in some ways," she said. "It doesn’t matter that I skied well the week before. It’s a different course, a different judging panel, but I do try to build on it, because I do think the streak represents my goal, which is consistency."

McPhie was all smiles afterward, not the least bit dejected after coming up short against Kearney. The Montana native and Park City resident is the only female moguls athlete who uses the D-spin — an off-axis 720 spin — in competition. She hopes that, the tighter and cleaner her D-spin becomes, the better her chance of standing higher on the podium than Kearney in the near future.

"I think I did push her," she said. "It’s the first time she’s never been in first in any single run, so I’m stoked. Especially because I haven’t competed with the D-spin all that much, and I’m just starting to learn. Every single run I’m getting better."

So what will it take to beat the vaunted Hannah Kearney?

"Not much more," McPhie said with a smirk.

The last time Kearney did not emerge victorious was on the very same Champion run at Deer Valley last year when Canada’s Jennifer Heil defeated her in the FIS Freestyle World Championships.

Todd Schirman, freestyle program director for the United States Ski & Snowboard Association, said his mogul star was eyeing redemption and chomping at the bit to come out on top at this venue.

"I think she was challenged, and she always shows up when she’s challenged," he said.

Next up for Kearney is Saturday evening’s dual mogul’s event at Deer Valley, and make no mistake, she knows she has a target tattooed on her back.

"I guarantee everyone wants to beat me," she said. "I’m going to have to ski very well for five runs if I want to win that one."

In the men’s event, American Jeremy Cota, ranked No. 2 in the world heading into Thursday, was a prime example of how the new rules come into play.

The Maine native had qualified first for the finals run, but skied over his pole in his finals run. The pole snapped and he lost control, effectively ending his night in heartbreaking fashion.

Mikael Kingsbury’s in-air style catapulted him past Canadian teammate and defending Olympic champion Alexandre Bilodeau, who finished second behind the youngster. Vinjar Slatten of Norway finished third. American Patrick Deneen was fourth.

Tonight’s dual mogul finals are scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. on the Champion run at Deer Valley.