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.”

Olympic pairs champions take indefinite break

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Aljona Savchenko, the Olympic pairs champion with Bruno Massot, said they are taking an indefinite break from competition, according to German press agency DPA.

Savchenko and Massot will perform in ice shows next fall and winter, which could preclude them from competing in major events like the Grand Prix season (late October to early December) and the European Championships in January.

The German pair followed their title in PyeongChang with a world title last month, breaking a four-year-old world-record score and winning by the largest margin (20.31 points) in pairs at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was replaced 14 years ago.

Savchenko, 34 and a five-time Olympian, became the oldest Olympic pairs gold medalist. She then claimed her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

The French-born Massot, 29, competed in his first Olympics in PyeongChang and earned his first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

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Andre De Grasse’s return headlines Drake Relays on NBC Sports

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Andre De Grasse believes he could have entered the Drake Relays as the world champion in the 100m and 200m. Instead, he watched those finals last August. One from his hotel room. The other on replay on social media.

De Grasse, the Rio Olympic 100m bronze medalist and 200m silver medalist, will race for the first time in nine months at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday as part of NBC Sports’ weekend track and field coverage.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will air live coverage of the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

Friday
Penn Relays: 5-6 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday
Penn Relays: 12:30-3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold
Drake Relays: 3-5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

The Canadian De Grasse is the Drake Relays headliner, racing for the first time since suffering a grade 2 right hamstring strain four days before last year’s worlds in London.

De Grasse faces a Drake field that includes six other men who have broken 10 seconds, but of them only U.S. Olympian Mike Rodgers (9.85) has a better personal best than De Grasse’s 9.91 from the Rio Olympic final.

Rodgers, a decade older than De Grasse, hasn’t broken 10 seconds in his last 28 wind-legal races, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The field is not of much concern for De Grasse.

“I’m not looking for a specific time or anything,” he said Monday. “Just looking to get my legs under me, get the rust off, see what I can do and go from there.”

De Grasse said in a recent CBC interview that he’s been training for five months since the injury. He remembers the thoughts as he watched the world championships, starting with Usain Bolt‘s relegation to bronze in his last individual race won by Justin Gatlin‘s late surge.

“I knew that it could have been anybody’s race; [silver medalist Christian] Coleman could have won, Bolt could have won or Gatlin,” De Grasse said Monday. “When I watched it, I was surprised because usually Bolt would usually catch [up to win]. Coleman was out in front. You couldn’t really see where Gatlin was. Usually, Bolt would come back at the end. It looked like, for sure, that would happen. It looked like from my view that Coleman won. When I saw the replay, Gatlin kind of just snuck in there. … I was definitely surprised of the outcome. … I wish I could have been in it, but there’s going to be more opportunities for me.”

(De Grasse said he has not recently spoken with Bolt or “anybody in track in a while.” Last July, De Grasse’s coach was quoted saying that his sprinter was “booted out” of a race per Bolt’s wishes, which De Grasse later denied in a report, calling Bolt a legend.)

Gatlin’s winning time was 9.92 seconds into a .8 meters/second headwind. De Grasse failed to break 10 seconds in all five of his wind-legal 100m races last season, but he did run 9.69 with a mammoth 4.8 meters/second tailwind a month and a half before worlds.

Then came the world 200m final five days later. De Grasse said he had never heard of surprise winner Ramil Guliyev of Turkey. Guliyev won in 20.09, the slowest Olympic or world gold-medal time since 2003.

“I ran against all of those guys before and felt like I was capable of winning a race like that if I wasn’t injured,” De Grasse said. “To be honest, I had never heard of most of those guys in the 200m final except for I think a couple of guys, Wayde van Niekerk and [Nethaneel] Mitchell-Blake from Great Britain.”

De Grasse’s goals this season include breaking the Canadian 100m record of 9.84 (shared by Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey, the latter’s time a then-world record at the 1996 Olympics). He would like to lower his 200m personal best of 19.80 from Rio.

He wants to win a Diamond League trophy for being the best man over 100m or 200m through the season. The 100m remains his preferred distance (“That’s the glory event.”).

De Grasse said he plans to race most of the Diamond League schedule, starting with the first two meets in Doha and Shanghai the next two weeks. De Grasse and Coleman are slated for a head-to-head at a Diamond League meet in London in July.

No matter what De Grasse does this season, he does not believe he can wrestle the mantle of world’s fastest man from Gatlin or Coleman.

“You can’t say off this year that you’re the fastest man in the world,” De Grasse said, noting it’s the only year in the quadrennium without a global championships. “You’ve got to wait until next year to do that.”

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