Hannah Kearney

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Hannah Kearney still dreams of Olympics in retirement

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Hannah Kearney has been having these dreams since she retired from moguls skiing last year. Olympic dreams.

In a recent sleep, Kearney, the 2010 Olympic champion, saw the U.S. earning the right to host a future Winter Games. Inspiration to strap on the skis again?

“Now I’m thinking that would have to be over eight years from now, so I think that’s really, really unlikely,” said Kearney, who turned 30 in February. “I think part of me just doesn’t know what to do.”

Kearney last competed March 27, 2015, winning the U.S. Championships one final time to finish a strong season and a decorated career. From 2004 through 2015, Kearney amassed two Olympic medals, three world titles and a record-tying 46 World Cup wins.

Kearney struggled to decide when to retire, but she moved on quickly after hanging up the skis. Kearney took her name out of the drug-testing pool later that spring — the “official” sign of retirement in Olympic sports — and returned to school.

It took Kearney four years to complete three semesters’ worth of Dartmouth classes while juggling her gold-medal moguls career. She’s now a junior at Westminster College in Utah, a full-time student having just declared her major of marketing.

Earlier this month, Kearney was surrounded by her former teammates in New York City for the U.S. Ski Team’s Gold Medal Gala fundraising event.

Hours earlier, Kearney sat in a Manhattan hair salon chair with a laptop, putting the finishing touches on a financial analysis of Delta versus United for her Finance 300 class.

“It’s due at midnight, so I figured I better get it in before the ski ball starts,” she said.

Kearney is taking five classes this semester plus working a paid marketing-department internship with Promontory, a luxury Park City real estate community. She called it her “first real-world job.”

“It turns out I don’t have a lot of experience with that sort of stuff,” Kearney joked. “It’s the juggling act that all Americans deal with, and I never had to, so I can’t really complain.”

So, where are those Olympic dreams coming from? Well, Kearney is going to the gym three days per week with longtime teammate Jeremy Cota and following his strength program.

“We spend so much time training our bodies, I don’t want to just lose it all instantly [in retirement],” she said. “So I’ve just been trying to maintain.”

Kearney, who once won 16 straight World Cup events, always struggled with pull-ups. She says proudly that she can still do three sets of eight pull-ups, the same benchmark from during her moguls career.

“It was like a mental battle when I was an athlete,” she said. “I do not want to go back to not being able to do pull-ups.”

Kearney skied moguls this past winter, unwillingly, while urged by others in Park City.

“Not warming up and going to the moguls no longer feels good,” she said. “Jumping into a mogul field, it makes me feel as if I never was good at the sport to begin with.”

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Hannah Kearney ties moguls record in likely World Cup finale (video)

Hannah Kearney
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Hannah Kearney called it a “fairytale ending” to her international moguls career, tying a U.S. legend’s record with her 46th World Cup win and earning the overall freestyle skiing season title in Megeve, France, on Sunday.

“So if that’s the end of my career, it’s a very good ending to my career,” Kearney said, according to the U.S. Ski Team.

Kearney, 29, said before this season that it would be her last as a moguls skier, but she kept from making a retirement announcement in an interview last week. She may wait until May, or later, to ultimately decide.

On Sunday, Kearney matched 1992 U.S. Olympic champion Donna Weinbrecht for the most career World Cup victories.

Kearney, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist and 2014 bronze medalist, and Weinbrecht are the only U.S. Olympic women’s moguls champions. They first met at a 2002 U.S. team camp. Weinbrecht, then 37, skied her final competition earlier that year, and Kearney, then 16, was just getting started.

Kearney expects to race at least once more, in the U.S. Championships from March 27-29 in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

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Hannah Kearney hesitant to make retirement announcement

Hannah Kearney
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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.

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