Feb 6, 2014, 12:39 PM EDT
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.
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.
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.”
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