February 01, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Ten years ago, long before earning Olympic gold or embarking on her World Cup winning streak, Hannah Kearney skied around a bend at Park City's Deer Valley Resort and was a bit stunned.

It wasn't because of the steep vertical or the length of the moguls run.

Kearney, then just 15 and gearing up to be an Olympic forerunner that February, locked onto the size of the grandstand set up for the 2002 Winter Games.

"That was overwhelming, not only for someone who had not skied an Olympics, but any world competition," said Kearney. "I did OK."

Kearney, from Norwich, Vt., is more than OK now. At 25, no one is better.

She has been dominant, and enters Thursday's FIS races at Deer Valley having won 12 consecutive World Cup individual mogul competitions.

In mid-January, the reigning Olympic champion won her 11th straight, breaking a record set by Switzerland's Conny Kissling in the early 1990s. Last weekend in Calgary, she made it 12 in a row.

What makes her so tough to beat is the mindset she carries - namely that every race is a new challenge.

"I'm a logical person and realize just because I won last week has zero effect on how I'll ski this week," Kearney said. "I just try to think about the task at hand."

So it was 10 years ago as a forerunner, making a trial run down the Champion Course before the real competitors started busting through the bumps at the Games.

Rather than be intimidated, Kearney used it as motivation, learning within a month to do a "helicopter" off her jump, and eventually securing a spot on the U.S. team.

"There was some connection between seeing the level of skiing it took to be on the U.S. team, and being inspired to learn a new trick," Kearney recalled.

Deer Valley also taught her a lesson last year at the Freestyle World Championships when she missed a grab off her bottom jump and lost the gold to Canada's Jenn Heil.

"I let up for the World Championship because they don't count toward the overall (title), and that was my absolute focus," she said. "I thought if ever I could mess up, this was the place to do it. But I learned when you let up, you do just that. Hopefully, I learned from that. There's never any reason to let yourself off the hook."

There's no room for excuses with a perfectionist like Kearney.

"I'm always thinking I can improve upon something," said Kearney.

She calls her success since then a combination of things, including a little bit of luck, good timing, the right mindset, diligent training and experience.

"I'm at the point in my career where I'm coming into my physical peak," she said. "This is my ninth season on the World Cup tour, so experience, training ... it's a huge melting pot of factors coming together."

She's savoring every bit.

"I'm definitely enjoying it," she said. "Your ski career won't go on forever. I take immense satisfaction with setting goals and achieving them. My goal is victory and skiing my best, and when I do that, it's very satisfying."

Kearney will be the favorite, but Canada's 17-year-old sensation, Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal, has taken silver in four straight competitions.

Don't count out fellow Americans Heather McPhie (ladies moguls), Jeremy Cota (men's moguls), Emily Cook, Dylan Ferguson and Scott Bahrke (aerials), who will be spurred on by the home crowd.

"It has the largest spectator turnout of any event on the whole circuit, and skiing at night in front of that many people creates energy, especially in dual moguls. You can feel the crowd pulling for you," she said.

Men's and women's qualification runs in moguls are set for Thursday afternoon, with the finals at night. The aerials competition is Friday night, and dual moguls Saturday night.

Undefeated Canadian Mikael Kingsbury, 19, is one gold medal away from tying the World Cup moguls record of six consecutive wins set by American Jeremy Bloom in 2005.

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