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.”

Ill Katie Ledecky withdraws from world championships races

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An ill Katie Ledecky withdrew from her next two events at the world swimming championships, USA Swimming announced less than two hours before she was scheduled to race on Tuesday morning in South Korea.

“Katie has not been feeling well since arriving to Gwangju on [Wednesday], and these precautionary measures are being taken to ensure her well-being and proper recovery, and to allow her to focus her energy on an abbreviated schedule,” National Team Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko said in a statement.

Doctors are still identifying the specific problem with lab work, said her coach, Greg Meehan. Ledecky is out of the 200m and 1500m freestyles Tuesday but could still swim the 4x200m free relay on Thursday and the 800m free on Friday and Saturday.

Meehan said Ledecky’s slow last 50 meters of Sunday’s opening 400m free final, where she was passed and relegated for silver, was “a little bit of a sign” of a problem.

Meehan also said she was “having a hard time” in the final 500 meters of her last race, the 1500m free heats on Monday morning, where she posted the fastest time by 2.69 seconds. He checked with Ledecky and doctors after that race.

“She was feeling a little bit better last night, and then we were hopeful today,” Meehan said. “But woke up this morning and was not feeling well at all. We’re just going to take it session by session and then day by day. And then if we can get her back in the meet at some point, that would be ideal scenario.”

Ledecky did not mention a medical issue in speaking to the media Sunday after she suffered her first loss in the 400m free in a major international meet.

“This doesn’t take away from what Ari did,” Meehan said of 18-year-old gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia. “The message isn’t that it’s an excuse for coming up with a silver medal.”

Ledecky would have been in line to swim the 1500m free final and 200m free semifinals within about an hour of each other on Tuesday, the most difficult turnaround of her slate this week and perhaps for any swimmer at the meet.

Ledecky won the Rio Olympic 200m freestyle but was relegated to silver and bronze in the event at the 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. She ranks No. 5 in the world this year in the event, the shortest distance that she races individually at major meets.

Titmus owns the fastest 200m free time this year.

Ledecky, who has never withdrawn from an event at a major international meet in eight years at this level, is undefeated at 1500m. She owns the eight fastest times in history, and her world record is 18.4 seconds faster than the No. 2 performer all time in an event that makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Also withdrawing before the 200m free were Canadian Taylor Ruck, who won the 2018 Pan Pacs, and Australian Emma McKeon, who shared 2017 World silver with Ledecky. Ruck’s decision was due to her busy program overall and focusing on other events. McKeon is also ill.

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Sydney McLaughlin takes juggling act to USATF Outdoor Champs

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Sydney McLaughlin can juggle. She can also ride a unicycle. And she has been known to juggle and ride a unicycle at the same time.

“But I haven’t done both of them at the same time in a long time,” the 400m hurdler added. “I’m getting older now.”

About to turn 20 next month, she is juggling quite a few things these days — a new coach, living on the West Coast, making the transition from college to the pro circuit and the weight of lofty expectations. Her name constantly pops up among the ones to watch heading into the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

That’s hardly a surprise: In 2016 and at just 16, McLaughlin became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to qualify for the Olympics in more than four decades.

Pressure doesn’t bother her. She just keeps her eye on the prize like she did as a kid when her dad would coax her to run with the reward of a chocolate candy bar.

Winning is her incentive now — and it’s just as sweet.

“For me it’s kind of just focusing on myself and making sure I’m doing everything possible to be successful,” McLaughlin said ahead of the U.S. track and field championships, which start Thursday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.

A year ago, McLaughlin turned pro after spending a season at Kentucky and winning the NCAA 400 hurdles crown.

Since then, the New Jersey native has been adjusting to life in Los Angeles and working with 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles gold medalist Joanna Hayes. McLaughlin won her Diamond League 400m hurdles debut in Oslo, Norway, last month over U.S. teammate and Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad.

That despite knocking down the first hurdle.

“It’s good to know the strength was there,” said McLaughlin, who also won in Monaco on July 12. “But definitely have to work on the hurdles form and everything.”

McLaughlin will be one of the favorites when the 400m hurdles start Friday. It’s a loaded field that also includes Muhammad, 2015 world champion silver medalist Shamier Little and bronze medalist Cassandra Tate, ’16 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer. Since reigning world champion Kori Carter has an automatic spot to worlds in Doha this fall, there are three more spots up for grabs in the event.

“There’s so much depth,” McLaughlin said. “It’s particularly hard to make that team.”

McLaughlin teamed up in early November with Hayes, who ran the 400m hurdles before switching over to the 100m hurdles. Any chance McLaughlin makes a similar move?

“We always joke about it,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll have to see about that one.”

One hurdle at a time. Her focus remains on steadily learning the nuances of the taxing 400 hurdles event.

“She’s talented and there’s no need to put everything on the line or everything into it in one year,” Hayes explained. “Give her room to grow and make strides.”

Hayes gets asked this often: Can McLaughlin one day break the world record? The mark sits at 52.34 seconds set by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia in 2003. McLaughlin’s top time is 52.75 seconds, which she ran in May 2018.

“We don’t talk about, ‘OK, we’re going to try to break the world record,’” Hayes said. “We go in there and try to execute a great race. If you do that, eventually records will come.”

Growing up, McLaughlin wasn’t all that jazzed about running. Her father, Willie, would provide plenty of motivation in the form of candy.

“He said, ‘If you run I’ll give you a chocolate bar.’ I ran the 100m and actually won,” recalled McLaughlin, who started a juggling club while in high school and recently got back into the hobby. “I think I was more excited about the chocolate bar than the fact I won. I guess he lured me into the sport.”

She is still motivated by reward — a good performance earns her either a nap or a cheeseburger.

It’s the simple things in life.

McLaughlin comes from an athletic family. Her dad was a 400m semifinalist at the 1984 Olympic Trials and her mother, Mary, ran in high school. Her two brothers and sister also have competitive running backgrounds.

And when the siblings get together, it becomes rivalry time. Sydney pairs with her brother Taylor and they’re pitted against her sister Morgan and brother Ryan. The competitions range from bowling to board games to push-ups.

“We usually win,” cracked McLaughlin, the Gatorade national high school track athlete of the year in ’16 and ’17. “Anything that involves winning you can best believe that we’re competing with each other.”

In her spare time, she’s active on social media and offers tips to kids not that much younger than her.

“I definitely think having people look up to you and ask you for advice drives you to want to do better and continue to have success,” McLaughlin said. “I have fun with being that role model that does things the right way.”

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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors