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.”

Katie Ledecky’s win not the most impressive swim to open nationals

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Katie Ledecky won the 800m freestyle in a rout, but a swimmer with no Olympic experience had the most impressive victory on the opening night of USA Swimming Nationals on Tuesday.

Ledecky, the four-time Rio gold medalist, clocked 8:11.50 to win her trademark race by nearly nine seconds. That clinched her spot on the team for the world championships in Budapest in July.

“It’s important to get the job done here and get on to Budapest and do what I love, which is race at those big meets,” Ledecky said on NBCSN, adding later, “I didn’t rest too much for this [meet]. It’s hard to compare, but maybe compared to the other trials/selection meets, this might be the least tapered that I’ve been.”

Mallory Comerford was undoubtedly the star of the day at nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The rising Louisville junior won the 100m freestyle in 52.81 seconds, the second-fastest time by an American in history and No. 3 time in the world this year.

Comerford, who was 12th at the Olympic Trials, relegated Olympic champion Simone Manuel to second place by .24 on Tuesday night. Lia NealKelsi WorrellOlivia Smoliga and Katie Ledecky rounded out the top six and should be part of the 4x100m free relay pool in Budapest.

Comerford continued to improve after a breakout NCAA season, when she tied Ledecky for the NCAA 200-yard freestyle title in the same Indy pool. Comerford and Ledecky will go head-to-head in the 200m free at nationals on Wednesday.

“I’ve been really trying to figure out long course [Olympic-size pools], and it’s finally nice for it to be clicking,” Comerford told media in Indianapolis.

SWIM NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

The 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian won the men’s 100m freestyle by one hundredth over Caeleb Dressel, repeating their one-two finish from the Olympic Trials.

“I didn’t know where they were, and if I would have looked around, I probably would have lost it,” Adrian said. “Touch the wall, and then figure out what place you got.”

Adrian clocked 47.96 seconds, ranking fourth in the world this year. Adrian and Dressel are set to be joined on the 4x100m free relay squad by Townley HaasZach AppleMichael Chadwick and Blake Pieroni.

Ryan Held, who famously broke down in tears on the Rio Olympic 4x100m free medal stand, finished seventh, missing the world team.

In the 200m butterfly, Jack Conger upset top seed Chase Kalisz, winning in 1:54.47.

Conger, who was suspended four months in 2016 as part of the Rio gas-station incident, now ranks fourth in the world this year in an event formerly dominated by Michael Phelps.

Kalisz, the Olympic 400m individual medley silver medalist, didn’t even make the world team in the 200m butterfly. He was out-touched for second place by Pace Clark by .21.

The women’s 200m fly final went to form, with Olympian Hali Flickinger taking the win by 1.11 seconds in 2:07.60. Flickinger ranks 10th in the world.

The 200m fly final was missing Olympic butterfliers Cammile Adams (not racing at nationals) and Kelsi Worrell (racing at nationals, but not the 200m fly) and Trials third-place finisher Cassidy Bayer (eliminated in morning prelims).

Joining Flickinger on the world team is Dakota Luther, a 17-year-old rising high school senior. No high schoolers made the Rio Olympic swim team.

True Sweetser and Robert Finke made their first world team by going one-two in the 1500m free.

MORE: Missy Franklin: ‘What if I’m never as good as I was?’

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Sage Kotsenburg will not defend Olympic slopestyle title

Sage Kotsenburg
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Sage Kotsenburg, the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, will not defend his title in PyeongChang and is finished with contest riding.

Kotsenburg, 23, said he chose to devote the rest of his career to filming snowboarding movies rather than competing. It’s a common transition in the sport, but an unusual one for a reigning Olympic gold medalist.

“It had been on my mind since literally the day I won in Sochi,” said Kotsenburg, who last competed in early 2016. “I had my heart set on stopping competing after the Olympics, and then winning puts you in such a different mindset. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do anymore. I was on a high, so pumped on competing. I would get to the contests [after Sochi], and I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t have the edge to try this new trick anymore. All the time, I’m looking at [social media] posts from other people riding in Switzerland and Whistler [Canada] filming backcountry. I thought, I want to be there right now.

“I finally said to myself, I’ve got to do what makes me happy. Competing doesn’t make me happy right now.”

Kotsenburg said relief flooded over him after telling sponsors — including Oakley, Monster, GoPro and Stance socks — he would not ride in competition anymore. He wanted to know if they would stick with him during his filming career, but he understood if they felt otherwise.

“Each one of them said we’re happy to have you on board and keep it going,” he said. “After I told them, it was so much pressure off my chest. I knew I could just go snowboarding again.”

Growing up in Park City, Kotsenburg was fixated more on snowboarding movies than following contests. Though he’ll never forget watching the U.S. sweep the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic men’s halfpipe and then meeting Ross PowersDanny Kass and J.J. Thomas as an 8-year-old.

Kotsenburg was truly a surprise Olympic champion in 2014, taking gold after going into his first Winter Games with a goal to “make snowboarding look cool.” The Park City native later said President Obama told him, “Sage, this guy was like the favorite moment of the Games.”

“Looking back on it in 30 or 40 years, I’ll remember all the hard work and stress and craziness that went into it,” Kotsenburg said. “It was so worth it in the end. It’s something that’s made me who I am today. I think about it every day.”

Kotsenburg was at best inconsistent at the Winter X Games before and after his Sochi breakout — fifth in 2010, 10th in 2011, second in 2012, 13th in 2013, 15th in 2014, fifth in 2015 and 10th in 2016. Kotsenburg’s win at the last U.S. Olympic qualifier in January 2014 marked his first trip to the top of a slopestyle podium in about nine years.

In Sochi, Kotsenburg took gold by landing a cab double cork 1260 with a Kotsenburg-invented Holy Crail grab and a back 1620 Japan Air, trying the latter trick for the first time in his life (he hasn’t tried it since). The rider known as “Second-Run Sage” did it on his first run, scoring 93.5 points.

After the Olympics, Kotsenburg capitalized on his gold. He ate a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien, listened to Obama call him “sick and chill” and took his gold medal out of a white sock on “Mad Money” with Jim Cramer.

“Being backstage on Letterman, I was tripping,” he said. “Craziest one was definitely going to the White House and meeting Obama was insane. He said he watched the Olympics, and I had the chillest and most relaxed interview he had ever seen.”

Kotsenburg said he still needs to get a proper box to store his medal. He joked he might rather buy a manikin and hang it around its neck along with some cool outerwear.

Before what would have been the last contest of his career, Kotsenburg essentially suffered a concussion at Fenway Park in training at a big air event in February 2016. Kotsenburg said the head injury was very minor and that it did not factor into his retirement decision.

Kotsenburg spent all last winter riding in Alaska, Wyoming, Lake Tahoe, Utah and Whistler for a Snowboarder Magazine film called “Pepper.”

He plans to ride more this winter for his own film project and possibly attend the Olympics in a non-competitive capacity. 

The top slopestyle snowboarders going into PyeongChang are Canadians Mark McMorrisMax Parrot and Tyler Nicholson, Norwegians Marcus Kleveland and Stale Sandbech and American Red Gerard.

Gerard, 16, has known Kotsenburg for several years and once wore the Sochi gold medal.

“I hope [Gerard] comes home with a medal, even gold,” Kotsenburg said. “He’s got such awesome style and really respects the background of snowboarding. He’s been filming, too, and really respects that type of snowboarding. Which I respect a lot.”

MORE: Kelly Clark hopes to add one more Olympic bib to historic wall