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.”