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Looking Ahead to Sochi

Kearney Preps For Final Run At Moguls Gold

Hannah Kearney, of Norwich, Vt., competes in the freestyle moguls finals during a Pre-Olympic test event held in Rosa Khutor, near Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2013. (Agence France Presse  Javier Soriano)

Hannah Kearney, of Norwich, Vt., competes in the freestyle moguls finals during a Pre-Olympic test event held in Rosa Khutor, near Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2013. (Agence France Presse Javier Soriano)

Hannah Kearney clearly doesn’t read her own press.

At least not on the Federation International de Ski website, she doesn’t.

Whoever is responsible for writing the biographies of the world’s top ski athletes has declared this point in time to be the “Hannah Kearney age.” There’s a reason for that: The Hanover High graduate and 2010 Olympic women’s moguls gold medalist has dominated her sport like no other lately, with multiple FIS World Cup event wins and series championships on an impressive resume.

Kearney knows that; she’s never been one to let her accomplishments go to her head. Maybe that’s why when a reporter informed her this week that her age had arrived — at least in one PR flack’s mind — she almost broke down.

“Holy crap; I’m getting emotional, there’s tears in my eyes,” Kearney confessed on Tuesday in a phone interview from Colorado’s Wolf Creek resort, where she and the U.S. team are in the midst of preseason training. “It’s cool to see you have an impact on sports, but it also means nothing. It’ll be fun to read about when I retire.”

That day is on the horizon.

Kearney, 27, admitted that February’s Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, will be her last. As for when she’ll stop competing for good, that’s still undetermined.

She is a different person than she was entering Vancouver four years ago. In 2010, Kearney felt concentrating on the World Cup season would hamper her goal of Olympic gold, so she focused on the latter. Since then, she’s built a career of 36 wins and 54 podiums in just 97 World Cup starts, with four moguls titles, two overall freestyle titles and an FIS all-discipline record 16-event win streak at one point. The last Olympic cycle was the only one since 2009 in which she didn’t win at least one FIS championship.

“All I can say is I’m four years more experienced,” Kearney noted. “Four years of skiing on the World Cup circuit and getting in starting gates. I’ve grown and matured as a person. It’s four years to get stronger and four years to get back from injury, which helps my mental ability as well. I’m a better version of myself.”

Physically, Kearney is in a good place with less than a month to go before the FIS moguls season begins in Finland.

A crash in training in Switzerland resulted in two fractured ribs, a bruised liver and other injuries 13 months ago. The forced layoff gave Kearney’s World Cup competitors a two-event head start, and still the Norwich native rallied to win her third successive crystal globe with six wins and seven podiums in 10 starts.

The U.S. team returned to the Alps last month for a camp, which gave Kearney a few flashbacks but no repeats. She enters the 2013-14 full of confidence and good health.

“When the helicopters flew by, it reminded me I was unlucky to be on the back of one of those (last year),” she said. “The first backflip on that same jump that caused the injury, I was very nervous, but getting that over with I came full circle. A year after the accident, I felt I was improving again and I was no longer afraid. It’s a really great feeling.

“When you’re upside-down on skis, you’d be stupid if you’re not afraid. You do what you can to manage the fear, do as much training as you can, get better at that skill. There will always be fear, but it doesn’t have to be in a negative way.”

Kearney won last year’s inaugural FIS stop on the Sochi mogul course at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. It won’t give her an advantage at the upcoming Olympics, but it is a comforting thought.

“I can visualize what it’s like or what food I’ll be eating; that’s very helpful,” she pointed out. “It helps to know what I’m planning for. I’m careful not to overplan. I’m expecting it to be comical, way different than Vancouver. … It will be different, and I’m excited for the experience.”

The Olympic year comes with greater media attention. Kearney has already begun to experience that, with the U.S. Olympic Team’s recent 100-days countdown event in New York.

Since then, she’s taken cameramen around her hometown for a Liberty Mutual film project and contributed to a social media campaign for a Connecticut-based granola company. (All Kearney will reveal is the company, Bear Naked, and the fact that “it’s one of the goofiest things I’ve ever done on the slopes.”) Other commitments will follow – scheduled with an agent’s help – until the time to defend her Vancouver gold medal arrives.

“I’m in my prime, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the next step,” she said. “I love planning. That’s the reason I enrolled at Dartmouth (where she remains a part-time freshman student), not to be a better skier but a better human being.

“I plan on retirement, or the idea of it. It will be my last Olympics, for sure. Somehow I doubt it’s my last season. It just doesn’t feel like that.”

The Hannah Kearney age is about to resume.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.