Hannah Kearney

Unrivaled training has Hannah Kearney ‘more than ready’ for gold (again)

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Four years ago, Hannah Kearney received a note on the morning of the Olympic moguls final that she swore she’d never throw away.

Kearney was given another detailed, invaluable message before she qualified first Thursday into Saturday’s Olympic final at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

The Vermont native is in position to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals. Freestyle events debuted in the Olympics in 1992.

In 2010, Kearney broke Canadian hearts by upsetting Alberta’s Jenn Heil for gold in Vancouver. Her triumph capped a stretch of grueling training brought on by tearfully washing out in qualifying at the Torino Olympics, despite being a podium threat.

What happened earlier that gold-medal day, Feb. 13, 2010, and later that foggy night in Vancouver help tie the 2010 and 2014 Olympics together.

On that moguls final morning four years ago, Kearney was given the following note by U.S. Ski Team strength coach Alex Moore, as reported by Sports Illustrated:

Hannah, since May, 14,000 jumps, 126 hours of A-1 jogs or bikes, 450-plus [training] sessions, 140 recovery hot-cold baths, 1,000 jumps on the water ramps, 224 visual-coaching-program diary entries, 21 hours at lactate threshold, 190 sets of Supermans, 1,400 reps of squats, 1,500 Romanian deadlifts or glutes/hams and 470 pull-ups.

It was a log of her surely unrivaled training in the nine months leading into the Olympics.

“Sometimes the best coaching advice you can get is simple acknowledgement that there’s nothing else you could have done,” Kearney said. “That’s exactly the feeling you want in the start gate. That’s the embodiment of confidence. What happens now is left up to fate and up to me because I did all the preparation. It’s behind me now.”

Hours after winning gold, Kearney found herself in Vancouver’s Pan Pacific Hotel during her whirlwind post-victory media tour.

She caught sight of a flat screen TV and a commentator saying nobody had ever repeated as Olympic champion in freestyle skiing.

“Not yet,” Kearney told those around her.

So Kearney embarked on one more Olympiad with that groundbreaking goal in mind. The last four years saw domination – a record 16 straight World Cup victories – and despair. She lacerated a liver, broke two ribs and punctured a lung in an October 2012 training crash yet was back competing (and winning) three months later.

That’s anecdotal evidence of her dedication. But did the numbers back it up?

Kearney found out Wednesday, when Moore gave her another note that included:

1,786 sessions, 88 different strength programs,1,236 hours running, hiking and biking, 563 leg strength sessions, 38,904 repetitions, 66 strength sessions in total, 14.8 miles sprinting, 3,120 minutes in a cold tub, 13.9 miles of glute bend walks [moving sideways].

“You were ready in Vancouver,” Moore wrote. “You are more than ready in Sochi.”

Kearney’s reaction to this year’s note?

“Wow, I must have been slacking off those four years before Vancouver because we did a lot more training,” she said.

It yielded a 23.05-point score Thursday, a comfy .41 clear of the qualifying field.

MORE: Kearney easily tops moguls qualifying

She did it despite a botched second jump that received the lowest judges scores of any skier in the top 16. Kearney, known for pushing the degree of difficulty in the air, was flawless on the ground with the best turn scores and the fastest overall time by more than a half-second.

Surely Kearney is aware of those numbers. She’s a maniacal scrapbooker and diarist. Moore compiled the stats in the letter by reading Kearney’s diary.

“My life has been dedicated to this sport [since Vancouver],” Kearney said. “The statistics [in the letter] were definitely a testament that I’ve been eating, sleeping, breathing moguls skiing these last four years.”

Especially sleeping. She averaged about 9.4 hours per night since Vancouver, according to the stats.

WATCH: Women’s moguls qualifying from Thursday

She’ll have plenty more time to rest after the Olympics. Kearney has said these are her final Games, but perhaps not her final season.

That feeling hit her at the start gate Thursday night.

“Watching my teammate, Eliza [Outtrim], who was the first competitor down,” Kearney said. “As I looked up and watched her and saw the Olympic rings on her bib, I was like, this is it.”

The U.S. Ski Team will miss her dedication.

“She’s probably one of the most driven athletes I’ve seen in the last 20 years since I’ve been working with Olympic athletes,” said Dr. Troy Flanagan, high performance director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.

“She’s probably one of the biggest role models we’ve got on the team as far as absolutely meticulous preparation. It’s always sad when those ones retire.”

Of course, she’s not out the door yet.

Kearney is the clear favorite for victory Saturday, potentially becoming the first American gold-medal winner for a second straight Olympics. She’s led the World Cup standings every season since her 2010 Olympic gold and is the reigning world champion.

Her top challengers are Canadian sisters – Justine, Chloe and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe – who rank second, third and fifth behind Kearney this World Cup season.

They’re unlikely to keep Kearney from more gold, if you go by the numbers.

“Hannah Kearney has squatted, deadlifted and leg pressed 38,904 times since winning Gold in Vancouver,” Flanagan tweeted Wednesday, “#sheisready.”

Star goalie Ashleigh Johnson set to make U.S. Olympic water polo history

Ashleigh Johnson
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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) — Donna Johnson just wanted her five children to be safe around the pool at her Miami home. That was it, really, the first step in Ashleigh Johnson‘s path from prodigy to USA water polo.

Swim lessons turned into meets when their instructor told Donna Johnson her children were so good she had nothing left to teach them. When Ashleigh and her siblings continued to show athletic potential as they got older, Donna Johnson, a single mother and nurse from Jamaica, delivered a simple message to them.

“For everything that they do, it’s not about pressure, it’s about maximizing your potential,” she said.

Now her oldest daughter is about to make history this summer. Ashleigh, a goaltender blessed with jaw-dropping athleticism, is a lock for Rio de Janeiro, putting her on track to become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team.

While this is just the fifth Games for the women’s tournament, Johnson’s ascension to elite goaltender is a welcome development for a sport looking for more diversity and growth outside of water polo-crazy Southern California.

Each of Johnson’s teammates is from the Golden State, and the same three Pac-12 schools — UCLA, Southern California and Stanford — dominate the roster. Seventy-five percent of USA Water Polo’s roughly 42,000 members live in California.

After starring at Ransom Everglades High School in Florida, Johnson opted for Princeton instead of USC.

“I think Ashleigh Johnson’s the future of our sport in the U.S.,” USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said. “She’s an out-of-California athlete who grew up in Florida. She went to Princeton, high academic achiever from a different background than a lot of traditional water polo families are from.”

Just a short while ago, Johnson, 21, wasn’t interested in that future, at least with the national team. The thought of moving away from her tight-knit family and joining a new team in California wasn’t appealing to her, but several conversations with coach Adam Krikorian helped change her mind.

“I didn’t really know that the Olympics was a possibility for me,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just like coming and training like I had been doing for years, but just living out here, and he made me realize that the Olympics was a great opportunity and a possibility for me.”

Krikorian first heard of Johnson about 10 years ago when he was the head coach at UCLA. Nicolle Payne, one of his assistants with the Bruins and a former national team goaltender, was working a camp in Miami when she sent an email to Krikorian about America’s next great goaltender.

“She said, ‘Adam, keep this name in your mind,’ and she told me her name — Ashleigh Johnson,” Krikorian said. “‘She is the most amazing goalie I have ever seen.”‘

It’s easy to see what got Payne’s attention.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson has long arms, perfect for firing outlet passes for U.S. counterattacks and guarding the top parts of the goal, and she cuts through the water with impressive ease. Sick of swimming in high school, she was offered an out by her mother and coach if she won the 50-meter freestyle at states as a sophomore. So she won and walked away.

She collected 54 saves while helping the United States qualify for the Olympics at a tournament in the Netherlands in March, including 10 stops in an 11-6 victory over Italy in the final, capping an 8-0 performance for the Americans. But that gifted sprinter is still inside her.

At a recent practice, assistant coach Chris Oeding gave the team a chance to cut short the swimming portion of training if the players could assemble a sub-1:40 200-yard freestyle relay team. Krikorian and assistant coach Dan Klatt offered a nodding Johnson as a candidate, but four different players were chosen.

They made the time, but Johnson stole the show by swimming the second leg alongside the relay, leaving Krikorian and Klatt shaking their heads as she churned through the pool like a motorboat.

“She’s a freak,” Princeton coach Luis Nicolao said. “She’s just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team, she just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does.”

Johnson and her sister, Chelsea, play for Nicolao with the Tigers. They have two older brothers, Blake and William, and one younger brother, Julius.

Their parents got divorced when Ashleigh was little, and Donna Johnson raised the kids mostly on her own. It’s a challenging juggling act not lost on her children.

“I mean she’s such a hard-working, loving and determined woman,” Ashleigh said, “and she’s taught me that hard work ethic and just to try my best at everything and love what I do.”

Chelsea Johnson, who joked that she followed her sister to Princeton because she didn’t want to play against her, said she sees similarities between Ashleigh and their mother.

“I think the biggest thing from her, she and Ashleigh, is that she’s always smiling, no matter what,” she said. “Like her and Ashleigh, not matter what they’re doing, no matter how hard the thing is, they’re always smiling and trying to make everyone around them feel better about whatever’s happening.”

VIDEO: Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross beat Brazil’s best beach volleyball team for the first time and extended the longest winning streak of their partnership in winning the Moscow Grand Slam on Sunday.

“That just shows our growth,” Ross said. “We’re still on the up and up.”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, an Olympic silver medalist, beat Olympic qualifying top seed Larissa and Talita 22-20, 21-17 in the final for their third straight international title.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have now won 22 straight FIVB World Tour matches, the best run of their three-year parternship. Walsh Jennings last reached a streak this long from 2007 to 2010, when she won 78 straight international matches with Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, according to BVBInfo.com

The Americans had lost all three of their previous matches (one a one-set exhibition) versus Larissa and Talita:

Feb. 27, 2015 — 26-24 in Rio de Janeiro
Aug. 23, 2015 — 21-18, 21-16 in Long Beach, Calif.
March 20, 2016 — 22-20, 21-19 in Vitoria, Brazil

Larissa and Talita, seeking to become Brazil’s first Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions in 20 years, have won 12 of their 20 international tournaments since pairing in July 2014.

The FIVB World Tour continues in Hamburg, Germany, next week, the final event in Olympic qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to play there.

Walsh Jennings and Ross and Larissa and Talita are already qualified for the Rio Games.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia