Hannah Kearney

Hannah Kearney leads U.S. Olympic Team for moguls; Dylan Ferguson left off aerials

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Defending Olympic champion Hannah Kearney leads a nine-member U.S. Olympic Team in moguls and aerials skiing announced Tuesday.

Kearney, 27, will try to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals in Sochi. She leads the World Cup standings, having won three of six events, in her first full season since returning from injury. She’s going to her third Olympics.

Kearney is joined on the moguls team by 2010 Olympian Heather McPhie and first-time Olympians Heidi Kloser, who made her first World Cup podium this season, and Eliza Outtrim.

The men’s team is Patrick Deneen and Bradley Wilson, who like Kearney, both qualified via objective criteria before Tuesday’s announcement. Deneen is the 2009 World Champion who finished 19th at the 2010 Olympics. Wilson is the brother of 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Bryon Wilson.

The aerials team is made up of 2010 Olympian Ashley Caldwell and 2006 and 2010 Olympian Emily Cook. The lone men’s aerialist is Mac Bohonnon, while Dylan Ferguson was left off.

Ferguson, 25, was the top U.S. men’s aerialist each of the last three seasons in World Cup standings and ranks 10th this season, four spots ahead of Bohonnon. Bohonnon won a silver medal in one of five World Cup aerials events this season. Ferguson did not make a podium this season.

Ferguson misses out on the Olympics for the second time. He was named to the 2010 Olympic Team but was forced to pull out due to complications from an appenedectomy, giving his spot to best friend Scotty Bahrke, the younger brother of two-time Olympic moguls medalist Shannon Bahrke.

He watched the Opening Ceremony from a hospital bed, lost 20 pounds and could not eat for a week, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bahrke wrote Ferguson’s name on his skis when he competed in 2010.

“Ever since I’ve been a kid, I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics, get a medal for my country,” Ferguson told the Los Angeles Times. “For me, to have that taken because something inside of me was wrong, I could understand maybe if I had a broken leg or if I hurt it during training or something, it would be a little different. I really didn’t have any control of what was going on.”

The U.S. is sending its smallest contingent of moguls and aerials skiers to the Olympics since aerials was added in 1994. This is because of International Ski Federation rules keeping Olympic freestyle skiing rosters to a maximum of 26 skiers and the addition of slopestyle and halfpipe skiing to the program.

The U.S. opted to send a maximum of four athletes per gender in slopestyle and halfpipe.

Of the moguls skiers and aerialists, Kearney is the likeliest candidate for a gold medal, perhaps the only candidate.

Kearney won 16 straight moguls or dual moguls World Cups from January 2011 to February 2012. In October 2012, she lacerated a liver, broke two ribs and punctured a lung in a training crash.

She returned to the World Cup circuit in January 2013, missing two stops, and won six of 10 events and the World Championship to close last season.

“[The injuries] took my sport away from me for a couple months,” Kearney said before this season. “Nothing like that to realize you love it and still feel motivated. I feel like I’m back and stronger than ever now.”

Former Bills, Packers receiver makes U.S. Olympic Team

Javier Fernandez rebounds to lead Grand Prix France

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez was back at his best, landing two quadruple jumps to top the Grand Prix France short program on Friday.

Fernandez, who was sixth at his opening Grand Prix two weeks ago with a reported stomach bug, tallied 107.86 points in Grenoble. It’s the second-best score of his career.

The 2015 and 2016 World champion goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 13.94-point lead over Shoma Uno of Japan. Uno fell on his opening quad flip attempt.

Uno went into France as the clear favorite, the only man to break 300 total points this season. He did it at both of his competitions this fall.

Earlier Friday, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond led a group of favorites who topped the short programs for the women, pairs and ice dance. All of the free skates are Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Both U.S. men fell Friday, not helping their cases for the three-man Olympic team.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, fell on his opening jump combination. He failed to build on his personal-best free skate from his last competition, where he landed three quads to claim bronze at Cup of China.

U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou crashed on both quadruple jump attempts, two weeks after falling three times between two programs at his Grand Prix debut.

Zhou, 17 and the world junior champion, has the jumps to easily make the three-man U.S. Olympic team. But those big mistakes allow the likes of Jason Brown and Adam Rippon to pass him.

“To say the least, my performance was dismal,” was posted on Zhou’s Instagram. “It was not a representation of how I train or who I am. Smiling and waving while my heart is breaking is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have been following my Olympic dream for as long as I can remember, fighting, being set back, conquering obstacles, and experiencing the ups and downs of striving to better myself every single day. I am capable of so much more. I am a fighter. I fully believe that I can and will draw on my spirit, inner strength, and faith to my words to perform much better in the future.”

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Internationaux de France
Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 107.86
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 93.92
3. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 91.51
8. Max Aaron (USA) — 78.64
10. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 66.12

Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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