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

Lindsey Vonn sets date for proposal to enter men’s race

ALTENMARKT/ZAUCHENSEE, AUSTRIA - JANUARY 15: Lindsey Vonn of USA celebrates during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Downhill on January 15, 2017 in Altenmarkt/Zauchensee, Austria (Photo by Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Ski Team plans to submit a proposal in the spring for Lindsey Vonn to be able to race against men in November 2018, according to the Denver Post.

“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn said, according to the newspaper. “I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”

Vonn’s idea is to race in Lake Louise, Canada, an annual late fall stop on both the men’s and women’s World Cup schedules. The men generally race in Lake Louise one week before the women do.

Vonn’s greatest success has come at Lake Louise, with 18 victories in 41 downhill and super-G starts dating to 2001.

Vonn previously requested in 2012 to be able to race against men in Lake Louise, but that was denied by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The federation said then “that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other.”

It doesn’t look like the federation’s stance has changed.

“You can set up a day where a female racer can compete against men racers, just as a show, but it has nothing to do with competition,” FIS women’s race director Atle Skaardal said, according to the Denver Post. “I don’t see that it’s going to change in the next years — no driving forces to urge a change like that. This is something the teams could do also in training. But why would you want to have a competition in this direction?

“I just don’t see the interest. For me it’s a meaningless comparison. It doesn’t matter if she’s one second behind or a half-second ahead. We compete female against female and men against men. To me it doesn’t matter if one gender is faster or slower. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, just because it’s of interest to one racer. I haven’t heard of any other sport being dragged into this kind of position.”

Vonn raced for the first time in 322 days on Sunday, finishing 13th in a World Cup downhill in Austria. It was actually an encouraging result, as Vonn said she wasn’t skiing to her limit in her first race back.

Her upcoming goals are to compete in the 2018 Olympics, after missing Sochi due to injury, and earn 11 more World Cup wins to break Ingemar Stenmark‘s career record of 86 victories. She can overtake Stenmark next season if she stays healthy and continues to win at her usual pace.

Vonn said in the spring that she would postpone retirement by one year and compete in the 2018-19 season if it meant being able to race the men.

But Skaardal’s comments suggest that won’t be possible.

“It’s definitely frustrating to hear that he said that, because I respect Atle very much,” Vonn said, according to the Denver Post. “He does a great job on the World Cup, and he is a former racer, so he understands. It’s disappointing to hear he doesn’t support it. But maybe if we organize something and a plan is put in front of him, maybe he would change his mind. I think most of the men are supporting me.”

Vonn is expected to race this weekend in a downhill and super-G in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, streamed live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Bode Miller plans to race next season, U.S. coach says

Wayne Gretzky compares Hayley Wickenheiser to NHL legend

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The greatest male hockey player of all time paid the greatest female player of all time quite the compliment at her retirement ceremony Saturday.

“You played with heart, desire, finesse, speed, skill,” Wayne Gretzky said to Hayley Wickenheiser. “The only other person, the greatest player to ever live, I think he would be happy if I said you were the female Gordie Howe. Congratulations.”

The Canadian legend Wickenheiser announced her retirement Friday, after six Olympics and four gold medals. On Saturday, she was honored before a Calgary Flames-Edmonton Oilers game. A highlight was a speech by Gretzky, who now works in the Oilers’ front office.

Wickenheiser’s first Olympics, Nagano 1998, marked the only Winter Games for Gretzky. Gretzky played in the first Olympics with NHL participation in Nagano, finishing fourth with Canada, and retired in 1999 without an Olympic medal.

“You’ve opened so many doors for so many young girls to be able to one day win a gold medal,” Gretzky said to Wickenheiser. “To me, that’s more important than anything.”

Wickenheiser then took the mic at center ice and reciprocated.

“A big part of why I play the game is because of this man standing right here, Wayne Gretzky,” she said, later adding, according to Canadian media, “In Salt Lake City [2002] when we won the gold medal, the first two people I saw when we stepped off the ice were Wayne and [former Oilers All-Star defenseman] Kevin [Lowe] standing in our dressing room cheering for us.”

As part of the Wickenheiser ceremony, a tribute video was played including messages from Canadian Olympian and Hall of Famer Mark Messier, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

MORE: Amanda Kessel sets sights on 2018 Olympics