Hannah Kearney

Hannah Kearney hesitant to make retirement announcement

Leave a comment

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

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

Getty Images
2 Comments

Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Roger Federer minted on Swiss coin

Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

AP
4 Comments

Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping