Perseverance earns medals for Hannah Kearney
January 15, 2014
She tapped her poles together, moving into the start at the top of the course. Signature pigtails arranged neatly through helmet vents in back. Arms outstretched, embracing within her the 10,000 people below. Mind focused on her line down the floodlight-illuminated Champion run one of the steepest and longest courses in the world. Beaming smile on her face. Checklist complete. Katy Perry on the PA. Time to Roar! Twenty four seconds, 52 turns and two massive jumps later, Hannah Kearney had World Cup win number 39.
In a sport where there’s a high value placed on absolute precision, Olympic champion Hannah Kearney wrote the book. Her training, her mindset, her competition runs all absolutely precise. Think about making 52 turns in 29 seconds! Think about a 39 percent win rate. That’s Hannah Kearney.
Since the 2011 World Championships, she’s unbeaten on Deer Valley’s iconic Champions run with six straight wins. This past weekend, Hannah was all smiles, simply doing her job, picking up the wins and despite her reluctance to accept it yet clinching a spot on the Sochi Olympic Team, her third.
Today, she is the face of her sport. But it wasn’t always that way. The reigning World Champion, Kearney went into the 2006 Olympics with great hopes. Those hopes were dashed when she failed to qualify for the medals round.
"In 2006, I felt embarrassed, defeated and uncertain of my future," she said. "But successful athletes find motivation in setbacks. It could be called stubbornness or even insanity. But it is usually called perseverance when it is followed by success."
That one qualifying run on the slopes of Sauze d’Oulx shaped her life. It wasn’t the only setback. A blown knee and a subsequent concussion sent her on detours that could have easily caused her to give up the dream. She never wavered. Even in the starting gate at Vancouver knowing that the 15,000 screaming fans down below were cheering for her rival, Canadian Jenn Heil, the defending Olympic champion she never wavered. Focus. Attention to detail.
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Every one of those 52 turns down Champion were hard earned. They came from day after day, hour after hour of dry-land conditioning. Few work harder than Hannah. As she headed to the venue for her Olympic start in 2010, she opened an envelope from her strength coach Alex Moore. On it was a list of what she had done in nine months to prepare for that day: 14,000 jumps, 126 hours of A-1 jogs or bikes, 450-plus training sessions, 1,000 jumps on the water ramps, 21 hours at lactate threshold the list went on.
That’s how you become an Olympic champion!
In 2011 she decided to step away from moguls skiing to attend college at Dartmouth. That spring her home moved from snow fields to classrooms. She soon realized the competitive fires were still burning. A fall camp in Zermatt got her focused on her true passion as a Best in the World moguls skier. Dartmouth was accommodating to the Olympic champion. And she was back on Tour. Since that break, she’s won 20 of 26 World Cups and been off the podium only four times.
After Saturday’s win, Kearney was finally able to embrace the fact that she’s going to Sochi.
"It means a lot to me to ski in front of thousands of Americans cheering for me," said Kearney. "It feels really good. After all, I get to go to represent the United States of America in Sochi. I couldn’t be more excited."
Watch Hannah Kearney in Sochi
Thursday, Feb. 6 Women’s moguls qualifying (opening night primetime coverage on NBC)
Saturday, Feb. 8 Women’s moguls finals
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.