American Hannah Kearney carved her way down the mountain, another victory and another nearly flawless performance in the books.
Only then did she learn that she had done more than notch another win, but made a bit of history, as well.
Last week in Lake Placid, N.Y., the Olympic moguls champion won her 11th straight World Cup freestyle competition. She broke the record set by Switzerland’s Conny Kissling back in the early 1990s, when freestyle skiing was more about ballet than busting through the bumps.
This week in Calgary, Kearney goes for 12 straight knowing win or lose, her decision to put off college at Dartmouth and stay on the ski circuit full time is definitely paying off.
Did she have this kind of goal in mind when she decided to stay with it this year?
“No, in the sense that I didn’t know the record existed,” Kearney said Monday. “But yes, in that setting the record meant I was skiing very well, and the consistency was there.
“But I didn’t know about the record until I broke it.”
The 25-year-old knows about the unpredictability of her sport — any sport, really, where ice, snow and weather can play as big a role as skills and consistency.
In 2006, Kearney entered the Turin Olympics as a favourite, but caught an edge only a few turns into her preliminary run and finished 22nd, not even good enough to ski in the medal round. It was a motivator back then, and lingers as a reminder now, even though she made up for her slip in Turin with an Olympic victory in Vancouver two years ago.
“It was a horrible experience at the time, but it’s not a negative in my life anymore,” Kearney said. “It’s more a reminder that you can’t take anything for granted.
“You have to train for it, have to remember what it takes. In retrospect, it’s easy to say everything happens for a reason. It made me a much, much better skier and competitor.”
Her plan is still to take spring classes at Dartmouth and slowly work toward a degree, but with no intention of letting school get in the way of her goal of competing at the Sochi Olympics two years from now.
After beating Jennifer Heil of Spruce Grove, Alta., for the Olympic gold in Vancouver, then edging her for last season’s World Cup title, the question became, ‘What more is there to prove?’ In an interview a few months ago, Kearney conceded she sometimes wondered that, as well.
But when she again dedicated herself to the sport for 2011-12, she hooked up with a freestyle legend, Eric Bergoust, who lent some of his aerial expertise to Kearney. In moguls, skiers have to work their way through the bumps smooth and fast, but also have two jumps to worry about.
Bergoust has been helping Kearney with the jumps. She still performs a back layout on the top, with thoughts of adding a twist to that at some point — a daunting challenge for her, but also a signal to the competition that the best in the world can still get better.
For now, though, it appears that if she keeps doing what she’s doing, the record could keep growing. She’s won every meet she’s been in since last Jan. 21 in Lake Placid.
“Doing the best I can means winning,” Kearney said. “Based on the past, I sincerely believe when I ski my best, I can win, because I’ve been rewarded in the past for doing these same things.
“But all I want to do is go week to week. If I’m up there, thinking about what’s going on in March, I could lose focus on what I’m doing at that very moment.”