Hannah Kearney: “Thank you and goodbye” | SteamboatToday.com

Hannah Kearney: “Thank you and goodbye”

Unrivaled champion skier Hannah Kearney skis toward retirement

— Behind her mirrored Oakley sunglasses, Hannah Kearney’s eyes searched, left and right, left and right.

The skiing had gone just fine for the Olympic and World Champion, competing Thursday in the U.S. Freestyle National Championships in Steamboat Springs, the final event of her illustrious career.

She finished the qualification round of the women’s individual moguls event in first place, exactly where she hoped to be heading into Friday’s finals.

The day’s next task wasn’t going so well, however.

Kearney has willing accepted her role as an icon in her sport, aware that if you make 71 World Cup podiums, young skiers are going to put you on their podium.

Talking and laughing with friends, teammates and coaches at the base of Voodoo run at Steamboat Ski Area Thursday, she paused every few minutes to take pictures with younger athletes or their parents.

She’s happy to give back, she said.

But, she didn’t limit herself to photos. After finishing as the day’s top qualifier, she was scouring the crowd, looking for the people who’d reached out when she’d asked if anyone wanted her old equipment. 

A pair of her U.S. Ski Team ski pants hung on one arm.

It was her third-to-last day as a competitive moguls skier, the final event of her career, and it was a perfect time to give back.

“I know its really cool to have Ski Team pants when you’re not yet on the Ski Team,” she said. “It’s just wasteful for me to keep moguls pants I’m not going to use, so I posted on Facebook and said, ‘If you want them, tell me.’”

Athletes did. Now, she just had to find them.

Out with a bang

Kearney is at the end of a whirlwind retirement tour that went almost too well.

She announced it would be her last year before it started, then continued to dominate the field the way she always has, prompting people to question whether she’d really be able to walk away.

Competing in 11 events, she won five, including her third world championship. She only finished off the podium once, displaying still more stunning consistency from one of the most consistent performers in sports.

Heading into the season’s final World Cup competition earlier this month, she had already locked up the World Cup women’s moguls title, her fifth consecutive win in that season-long race. For good measure, she won that last event, too, a dual moguls competition in Megeve, France, skiing across the finish line with her teeth clenched, her face tight and her fist pumping in the air.

The numbers of her career are staggering.

That last win tied her with American Donna Weinbrecht for all-time World Cup wins, 46 each.

Kearney made it on the World Cup podium in 60 percent of her 117 World Cup starts, and she won 40 percent of them.

She’s done, though. Sunday will be her final moguls skiing competitio,n and she’s ready to move on with her life.

“Literally, all of my energy and time has gone to moguls skiing,” she said. “You can’t major in moguls skiing.”

She has a plan, or at least the start of one.

All-consumed by World Cup skiing for the last decade, she said she never stopped to think about what she wanted to do when it was over. She’s still not sure, but she is enrolled in classes at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, has an apartment picked out near by and has a moving truck lined up to help haul her dog, her bikes and the rest of her belongings across the country next month.

“My last chance”

Kearney was critical of her run on Thursday.

It was good enough, certainly, scoring at 87.02, first place ahead of Nessa Dziemian’s 85.95 and Mikaela Matthews’ 84.13.

But, you don’t become one of the world’s great World Cup skiers by settling for “good enough.”

“I made it top to bottom,” she said. “I executed my jumps well. I was having a problem with the top jump, and I made the adjustments I had to to ski out of that well.”

The real problem — again, comparatively speaking — came in the bumps between the two kickers, a bobble where she momentarily lost control for just an instant before snapping her knees back together and continuing to roar down the course.

She’s chased perfection with a ferocity that’s inspired her friends and her foes, and even at the U.S. National Championships, laid back compared to pressure cookers like World Championship or Olympic finals, even at the last event of her career, she’s still chasing.

Friday’s finals begin at 1 p.m., and that’s another chance.

“This is my last chance to try to ski a perfect mogul run,” she said.

Steamboat Springs has been good to Kearney. She spent parts of two summers living and training in town and won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on Mount Werner in 2009, ahead of the 2010 Olympics where she won a gold medal.

She’ll ski her last competitive run in Steamboat, too, Sunday in the dual moguls competition.

There’s at least one more day of skiing bumps, she said, later this spring for a photo shoot in Park City. After that, there’s no guarantee she’ll ever again rip through a field of moguls.

That’s all in the future, though.

On a sunny Thursday afternoon in Steamboat Springs, she was concerned about two things.

The first focus was laying down a perfect run in Friday’s finals.

The second focus was finding the about-to-be-overwhelmed young skier who asked for some pants.

“These people have been a huge part of my life. I’ve coached some of these athletes. I’ve been coached by plenty of these coaches here,” she said. “Freestyle has been a part of my life for over a decade, so I’m here to say, ‘Thank you,’ and, ‘Goodbye.’”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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