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

Kayla Harrison begins MMA career

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Judoka Kayla Harrison of the United States poses for a photo with her gold medal on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Two-time Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison has joined mixed martial arts promotion World Series of Fighting as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter, but she isn’t 100 percent committed to competing and won’t set a first bout for at least one year.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said. “I haven’t booked a fight.”

Harrison, 26 and all but retired from judo, has been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Ronda Rousey‘s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo.

Harrison will serve as a commentator and brand ambassador before potentially getting into MMA competition. Her commentating debut will be at WSOF 34 in New York on Dec. 31 on NBC.

Harrison has taken boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential.

To compete in MMA, Harrison will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competes at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC. WSOF, which has no women’s weight classes, plans to develop a women’s program as Harrison readies for a potential debut.

Harrison expects that if she fights, it will be at 145 pounds.

Harrison laughed about people tweeting at her to fight Brazilian Cristiane Justino, a former 145-pound title holder who is set to face Rousey, should Rousey win her comeback fight.

“I’ve never fought MMA before, so my first fight is not going to be for a belt,” Harrison cautioned. “I’m going to MMA 0-0, not as a two-time Olympic champion. People need to remember that.”

Harrison said she last conversed with Rousey one or two months ago. Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, congratulated Harrison on her second gold medal and told Harrison she was available if she needed anything.

Harrison said she might reach out to her former training partner early next year, after Rousey’s comeback fight, to pick her brain about MMA.

“And be like, hey, what do you got for me? Tell me everything,” Harrison joked.

MORE: Ronda Rousey sets comeback fight

U.S. men’s gymnastics program undergoes changes

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 25: Members of the U.S. Men's National Gymnastics Team gather before day two of the 2016 Men's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at Chafitz Arena on June 25, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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U.S. men’s national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika‘s contract will not be renewed at the end of the year as USA Gymnastics makes changes after missing the men’s team podium at a second straight Olympics.

Mazeika was the U.S. men’s head coach at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, where the U.S. men earned team medals at a non-home Games for the first time. He then served as national team coordinator from 2009 through this year.

The U.S. men finished fifth at the last two Olympics.

USA Gymnastics will replace the national team coordinator role with a high-performance director “focused on sustained international success.”

“The coaches, committee members and staff did a thorough review of the existing structure and results, and then took a hard look at what is needed to prepare our athletes for success heading toward Tokyo and beyond,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a press release.

MORE: U.S. women’s national team coordinator named