Kearney A Winner In Return: Norwich Native Takes First Race Since Injury

Hannah Kearney finishes first in the women's Moguls World Cup Freestyle Skiing event, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, in Wilmington, N.Y. (AP Photo/John DiGiacomo)

Hannah Kearney finishes first in the women's Moguls World Cup Freestyle Skiing event, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, in Wilmington, N.Y. (AP Photo/John DiGiacomo)

Wilmington, n.y. — Three months ago, Hannah Kearney was lying in a basket dangling from a helicopter high above a glacier in Switzerland. And she wasn’t sightseeing. The Olympic moguls champion fell hard after landing a jump while training in Zermatt in early October. Her head and knees were OK. But it felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach.

The diagnosis? Two broken ribs, a bruised liver and a collapsed lung — though Kearney, a Norwich native, says it was just a “tiny, tiny little puncture.”

She spent five days in a Swiss hospital and then missed the first two World Cup moguls competitions — both won by teammate Heather McPhie.

Coming into this week’s Lake Placid World Cup, with only seven days of what she would call full training under her belt, Kearney’s confidence was “not the highest it’s ever been.” Plus, she was 200 points behind for the World Cup overall title. It didn’t matter.

On a firm, windblown, shaded moguls course on Whiteface, Kearney showed her championship mettle. She skied all out and dominated qualifying, the semifinal, and the super final. (The top 12 competitors qualify for the semifinal, then the top six move on to the super final.)

Her final score of 23.53 was more than a point ahead of Nikola Sudova, of the Czech Republic, with a 22.36. Britteny Cox from Australia rounded out the podium with a 21.62.

“It was mostly a mental victory that I could push through it all,” a relieved Kearney said after the awards. “I’m happy to have been able to push myself and not let the injury affect me at all.”

U.S. moguls coach Garth Hager knew she was ready.

“She had some great jumps during our last break when we trained in Steamboat (Colorado),” he said. “She jumped ahead of where she was before she was injured.”

Going through the rest of the 2012-13 season, Kearney plans to work on what she calls little technical things in her skiing that will carry her into the 2014 Olympic season. But she also has her eye on the overall World Cup crystal globes, too.

“Yes, I’m at a severe (points) disadvantage at the moment, but it’s also a fun challenge,” she said. “All the years that I’ve won (the overall), I’ve won the first World Cup. I’ve had the lead the entire time. I’ve never had to climb up.”

Now she’s up for the challenge. And it helped that McPhie had a tough day. She landed her top air off-balance and never recovered, missing her bottom jump and coming to a stop.

“That’s not how you want things to go,” Kearney said. “You want it to be in a fair fight. But that’s mogul skiing. It’s a long season. My mentality is event by event, little improvements in my skiing, hoping that brings the results which then bring the grand reward at the end of the season.”

Kearney now returns home for four days before setting off on the rest of the World Cup moguls tour: Calgary, Deer Valley, Sochi (Russia), Japan, Sweden and Spain.

“I’ll be competing for the rest of the year,” she said with a big smile.