Hannah Kearney

Hannah Kearney hesitant to make retirement announcement

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The 2010 Olympic moguls champion Hannah Kearney will try to tie a U.S. legend’s record for career World Cup victories Sunday, in what many say will be the final international competition of Kearney’s career.

But not Kearney. It will probably be her final World Cup, but she’s keeping her options open.

“I’ve learned that it’s hard to make announcements in a sport you love,” Kearney said in a phone interview this week, before leaving Vermont for Megeve in the French Alps. “Then it gets here, and you start panicking, and you have Brett Favre moments. That’s the reason I’m hesitant.”

Kearney, 29, is arguably the greatest moguls skier of all time and definitely in any Mount Rushmore discussion. Last year, she said that this season would be her last.

She owns Olympic gold from Vancouver and bronze from Sochi, eight World Championships medals (including three golds) and 45 World Cup victories.

Only one moguls skier — man or woman — owns more than 45 World Cup wins. That’s the first Olympic moguls champion from 1992, New Jersey’s Donna Weinbrecht. Weinbrecht had 46 wins.

Kearney, who once won 16 straight World Cup moguls or dual moguls events, could cap her career by matching Weinbrecht’s record in Megeve on Sunday. She’s the favorite, having already clinched her fifth straight World Cup season title.

“Tying Donna would be the perfect compromise because who wants to beat Donna Weinbrecht?” Kearney said. “It’s not even fair. I had more World Cup starts than her.”

Kearney, whose World Cup debut came in 2003, will compete for the 117th time on Sunday. Weinbrecht had 112 starts from 1988 through 2002.

Their paths have crossed at the 2010 Olympics, when Weinbrecht reported on Kearney for Yahoo! Sports, at Killington, Vt., youth ski clinics, and, for the first time, at a 2002 U.S. Ski Team camp at Lake Powell, Utah.

“I remember her sitting there with her school books,” Weinbrecht says now.

Weinbrecht was 37 years old. Kearney was 16 and attending her very first U.S. team camp. Kearney studied English while other of-age team members celebrated the end of the season on a houseboat. It marked Weinbrecht’s final season.

“[Weinbrecht] was walking around with her large envelope of MRIs,” Kearney said. “I remember saying, ‘Oh, gosh.’ When you’re 16, you’re not thinking about MRIs. I’ve had a handful now, and I get it.”

Kearney’s ensuing decorated career included painful bumps, from tearfully washing out in qualifying as a medal favorite at Torino 2006 to many injuries.

They included a torn ACL, concussion, two broken ribs, lacerated liver, a punctured lung and, in July, a left knee arthroscopy following a torn meniscus that made her question coming back at all after Sochi.

“I need to move on,” Kearney said last fall. “In order to accomplish anything else in my life, I’ve got to start doing it now.”

Kearney plans to race at the U.S. Championships later in March, rest in April and take classes at Utah’s Westminster College starting in May.

“The last time I went to school, it certainly makes you want to continue to be an athlete,” Kearney said this week. “It turns out that homework and studying isn’t nearly as fun as training and competing.”

If Kearney wins Sunday and never competes internationally again, she will follow a similar exit as the biggest rival during her career, Canadian Jenn Heil.

Heil won the 2006 Olympic title but was unable to repeat in Vancouver in 2010, when home fans hoped she would become the first Canadian Olympic gold medalist ever on home soil.

But Heil upset Kearney at the 2011 World Championships, in the Canadian’s final season.

Kearney, after settling for bronze at the 2014 Olympics, said she saw Heil in the Sochi airport.

“I get it, that’s not as fun as winning,” Kearney recalled telling Heil.

Heil gave her a knowing look.

Weinbrecht quit after the Nagano 1998 Winter Games but, urged by 1994 Olympic silver medalist Liz McIntyre, came back in her mid-30s to make a run for the 2002 Olympics. She missed that team but didn’t regret it.

“I know if I sat on the couch, the competitor that I am, I would’ve, could’ve wondered,” Weinbrecht said.

Kearney has a similar disposition.

“It’s all for the competition,” she said. “That’s what I’ve lived for.”

So she’s concerned about how she will replace moguls.

“I’ll have to join a CrossFit league,” Kearney joked.

‘Into the Wild’ snowboarder rebounds after it went ‘horribly wrong’ in Sochi

Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

Chris Corning
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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Simon Ammann ramps up for one more run at Olympic ski jumping

Simon Ammann
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Simon Ammann, the Swiss ski jumper who gained fame for his resemblance to Harry Potter in 2002 and went to win all four Olympic ski jumps on North American soil this century, has walked back talk of retirement and now says he wants to continue through the 2022 Olympics.

Ammann won the normal hill and large hill in Salt Lake City in 2002. European ski jumpers don’t necessarily get attention from U.S. talk shows, but the 20-year-old Ammann had two things that set him apart. First, his wins were tremendous upsets. Second, he looked like Harry Potter.

He wound up appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which makes him a wild-card connection in the Kevin Bacon game the peripatetic actor was the other guest on the show that night, and Ammann happily posed with Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick after the show.

Eight years later, Ammann duplicated the feat in Vancouver. This time, he left behind the Harry Potter glasses behind, though he made an enthusiastic walk through the mixed zone wearing comically oversized sunglasses that made him look like the Buggles’ Trevor Horn in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, the first music video on MTV.

In 2010, his victories weren’t quite as unexpected. He won the World Cup season title that year, sandwiched between two second-place finishes.

In 2002, on the other hand, he took off from the Olympic hill at Park City having never won a World Cup event. His two wins in the Olympics were his first two in any international competition in the FIS database.

Ammann has also had success in major competition in Asia. He took gold and silver in the 2007 world championships in Sapporo, Japan, the first two of his four career world championship medals. He also won a World Cup event in Sapporo in 2010.

In recent years, though, Ammann hasn’t been competitive on the World Cup circuit. He has been on the podium only once since 2015. Since taking his last major-event medal in 2011, his best result in the world championships was seventh place in 2013.

But he’s already shown he can, like Harry Potter, conjure a surprising performance.

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