Skier Hannah Kearney unbeatable on moguls, wins 13th straight gold
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Hannah Kearney made it look so easy, winning a dozen consecutive World Cup moguls titles over the past year.
In Thursday's World Cup event at Deer Valley Resort, she got pushed by teammate Heather McPhie and still made it 13 in a row.
"The pressure was on," Kearney said of being in an unusual position - second place going into the last run.
"It was a sort of nerves I haven't felt in a while, but in an absolutely positive way. I'm glad I was able to take the nerves and perform well and not take them and buckle under the pressure."
The 25-year-old Kearney had just enough to win, scoring 25.21 points on her third run of the day to edge McPhie (24.77). Seventeen-year-old Australian Britteny Cox (22.84) took bronze - the first podium finish in a World Cup for an Aussie woman.
While Cox had an impressive showing and said she felt "absolutely amazing," it was McPhie applying the heat for Kearney.
"I think I did push her," said McPhie, who landed a back cross on her top jump and a D-spin on the bottom. "It's the first time she hasn't been in first for any single run, so I'm stoked. I haven't completed the D-spin that much and I'm just really starting to learn and with every single run I'm getting better."
Kearney's only loss at a venue since January 2011 came on the same Champion run at Deer Valley when she missed a grab at the World Championships last February and had to settle for silver by four-hundredths of a second to Canada's Jenn Heil.
Kearney wanted redemption for that mistake and got it.
"Good thing I didn't make myself look really dumb," Kearney said.
But she knows she'll have to be near-perfect for dual moguls Saturday night under the lights.
"I guarantee everyone wants to beat me, so I'm going to have to ski really well for five runs, if I'm going to win that one," Kearney said.
Canadian Mikael Kingsbury has been just that as he claimed gold Thursday to tie the World Cup moguls record of six consecutive wins set by American Jeremy Bloom in 2005.
"It's crazy because he was one of my idols when I was young and he was such a good skier and had great success," Kingsbury said. "To be in the (same class with him) is awesome."
Kingsbury, just 19, scored 25.90 points to edge countryman Alexandre Bilodeau (25.60), the reigning Olympic champion. Norway's Vinjar Slatten (25.05) grabbed bronze Thursday.
"I was just trying to ski my best," Kingsbury said. "The guys were pushing the limits; that made me push, too."
He went after it, attempting a back double full on the top, and corked 1080 on the bottom jump.
"I did the two biggest jumps there are right now in the moguls and I landed them again," Kingsbury said. "I had to do that to win, but no pressure. It is good pressure."
The 5-9, 145-pound Kingsbury is trying to follow in the steps of two Canadian greats.
Jean-Luc Brassard won gold for Canada at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and Bilodeau repeated that feat on home soil at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Kingsbury has his sights set on Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
But even he finds it hard to comprehend that Kearney has won 13 straight now.
"That's crazy," Kingsbury said. "She's dominating right now. You've got to ski your best every day, or one little mistake and you can go from first to five or 10."
Canada's 17-year-old sensation, Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal, knows that.
She had taken silver in four straight competitions but failed to advance to Thursday's finals. She caught an edge and slipped going into her bottom jump. She still pulled it off but her score dropped her to 23rd.
American Jeremy Cota, who entered Thursday ranked No. 2 in World Cup standings and was leading after qualifying, busted his pole trying to land his first jump and couldn't finish.
Otherwise, the Americans fared well on their home course.
Patrick Deneen was fourth for the men, and six U.S. women advanced to finals, with Brittany Loweree taking 10th.
McPhie looks forward to the day when she can stand on the top step.
"Not much more," she said when asked how far away she is. "I need to be a tiny bit faster. I need to clean up that bottom air a little and with the Super Final, it's exhausting. And this course is super long, so I have to keep working on my endurance and make those turns perfect. My turns were a little sloppier in the Super Final, but I was still super happy with my run."
The ultimate goal, she said, is Sochi.
"This is a building year, where I can still do really well," McPhie said.
Perhaps one day that will mean toppling Kearney.
"She's got confidence obviously, and she's earned it," McPhie said. "I'm excited for the day when someone takes her down, but she's one of my best friends so I'm also really happy for her."