It all makes for magnificent skiing. And America’s Hannah Kearney, “Miss Mogul” with her pigtails, unparalleled expertise and excellence, demonstrates, year in and year out, that she’s the best. Most of us don’t have anywhere near the full mental and physical faculties to contemplate the competing - let alone the completing - of such winter-feats – but we can all agree to grade the sport, with its vitality, as a “10” for watchability.
Hannah, who skis out of the Waterville Valley BBTS Ski club in New Hampshire (BBTS stands for Black and Blue Trail Smashers) and is the most decorated World Cup athlete – ever – has motivation galore this 2015 after taking a lowly (for her) bronze at Sochi in 2014. Sochi will be her last Olympic competition…She took gold at Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics.
Besides proving a winning style, she has proven that knees are shock absorbers; that reflexes can be honed to milliseconds; that nerve and guts can be either inherent – or learned. Taking the zipper line path, wherein four moguls can be skied over - in a second- is proof that the sport leaves no room for error, if being the best is the goal. And the seven judges that oversee the run give the final verdict, a verdict run on a 26 degree sloped hill with moguls about 3.5 meters apart. The length: about 250 meters.
Hannah knows length. This clip, from her January run in Calgary in 2012, was her 12th win in a row. By February she had amassed 16 consecutive wins. Despite the short time taken to do a moguls run, the sport reveals the facets of the hellacious and the heavenly, the dreamy (and from these layman’s eyes, the deadly.) Moguls skiing is not only an idiom but an idea, an inkling of what can happen when imaginations are allowed to run just a little bit wild.
For Hannah, and every elite competitor, the major matter - first worth conquering or mastering – is of oneself. Can one marshal body and brain into a fused unit capable of training, performing, and recovering from injury and disappointment to hit the heights at the right time? For Hannah, specifically, she had to conquer a fear of being upside down. Gradually, she overcame her fear of this integral part of her sport – half the flips it seems are back flips - by methodically and determinedly acclimatizing herself to the sensation, by stages. First, she bungee jumped with a spotter. Then she jumped without a spotter. Next, she ski jumped into a pool of water, before taking the show on the road, as it were, onto snow.
Hannah’s a hunkette. Built. When she pours ice water over her head (for the ACLS challenge, not for moguls skiing criterion) you can see her tummy is ripped. She can squat 245 pounds. She jumps rope and pushes over huge tires. She’ll do literally hundreds of jumps into that pool. She knows what she wants out of off-season training. And she’s got that so-needed, so-hard-to-summon, comeback quality to rise after lowly showings, like she gave at the 2006 Turin Olympics. She didn’t medal. Truthfully, she didn’t even make the second round. Charles De Gaulle once said: “Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself.”
That’s clearly Kearney.
Before we end, let’s go down that injury road for a moment. Formerly, freestyle skiing injury science was anecdotal; now thanks to the FIS – International Ski Federation - along with the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Centre, injury science is statistical. A study was presented in 2009 that showed one in three elite skiers or snowboarders suffered injury, with nearly 50% of these occurring during World Cup events.
Hannah wrecked her ACL in a 2007 training run. She underwent reconstructive surgery; she had her doctor do a hamstring graft. She didn’t touch a mogul until nine months later. And she felt pain. But she knew more about her new ACL, her body, and her sport – and the injury actually forged her into a more formidable mogul star, if that was possible. Assuming Hannah can stay clear of hurt and harm, she should have another great 2015 season. She won seven world cups in 2014. She’s still (relatively) flexible in limb and most assuredly flexible in thought. She’s still got that competitive “want.” She still loves her sport, loves laying it on the line, which we fans can certainly appreciate. It’s easy to admire such a tactician of mathematical precision as she winds and wins her way down the course. Of course, however, on the course stuff happens.
Or, as Hannah puts it: I don't crash often, but when I do, I make sure it hurts...
In December 2014 she finished 3rd in Ruka, Finland. It was her 64th World Cup podium. If she wins the overall World Cup title for the sixth time this season – that’ll be another first for her in moguls. And in March of 2015 she retires. Sure it hurts…for us.