Kearney looking to add to legacy | SteamboatToday.com

Kearney looking to add to legacy

Luke Graham

One of the side effects of winning a gold medal is being a celebrity, at least in your sport. Hannah Kearney, gold medalist in 2010, was plenty popular after Thursday's women's moguls qualification round, signing autographs and taking pictures with the public and even foreign members of the media. She was pretty good on the snow, too, laying down the top qualifying score to advance to Saturday night's finals.

— No doubt, at one point, the intriguing career of freestyle moguls skiers Hannah Kearney will be the focus of some debate.

Is she the greatest women's moguls skier ever? Is she the greatest freestyle athlete of all time?

Kearney recognizes this. But like so many moments in her career, the history-making potential doesn't resonate with her right now.

And that — the right now — is what is important.

"Not yet," Kearney said last month when asked about her legacy. "I will think about it, but I can't right now. Honestly, thinking about it is not going to affect what I do right now on a daily basis. I guess overall I would like to be respected as a competitor now, and when I retire. It's just sweet now. It'll be bittersweet at the end. I'll have the extra ability to appreciate it when it's done."

As she enters her third Olympics, with the women's opening qualifications behind her and the finals set for Saturday, Kearney made it known that she's still the same person she always has been.

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She's unassuming and quiet. She talks fast but provides calculated, thought-out answers. She has a mind that races, always dissecting situations.

Consider where her place in history could be with another win in Saturday's finals, though, and it's hard to argue that Kearney wouldn't be the greatest of all time.

Her 37 World Cup wins are second to Donna Weinbrecht's 46.

She won moguls World Championships in 2005 and 2013. She won the moguls overall season championship in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. She was the freestyle overall champion in 2011 and 2012.

A gold medal Saturday would make her the only two-time gold medal freestyle athlete in history.

"Her legacy is what it is," U.S. moguls coach Scott Rawles said. "She wants to make history and win again."

This Olympics, though, will be different from 2010. At those Games, Canada's Jenn Heil was the favorite, faced with the pressure of winning the host nation's first gold. After 2006, when Kearney was the favorite but didn't make the finals, the 2010 games were about redemption.

In Sochi, Kearney will be challenged. Canadian sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-LaPointe are second and third in the standings, and Steamboat Springs skier Eliza Outtrim is seventh. All should be considered medal contenders.

Kearney admits as much and acknowledges these games are different.

But the end result for Kearney — the process and the work that goes into it — always has been the same.

"I've proved I can do it, so for that reason, there is more pressure," she said. "But then again, I guess you're more relaxed, but not in a good way. You've seen it be the downfall of several skiers. 'Oh I've already won the Olympics, so I achieved my life goal,' and they let up just a little bit and that other person is a little hungrier, sneaks in and snatches that gold medal from them.

"I have no interest in letting that happen to me."

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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