Hannah Kearney (center) smiles with her World Cup dual moguls globe in Megeve, France. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom)
USSA columnist Tom Kelly takes a look at Hannah Kearney's remarkable 46th World Cup win – tying her with the famed Donna Weinbrecht – and her impending retirement in this week's Behind the Gold.
It was summer camp after the 2002 Olympics, farewell time for 1992 Olympic moguls champion Donna Weinbrecht – the Jersey Girl from Killington. Among the fresh new faces was a 16-year-old pigtailed girl from Waterville Valley, school books in hand, her eyes wide open after forerunning the Deer Valley Olympics a few months earlier. Donna was retiring with a record 46 World Cup wins. Hannah had only dreams.
This past weekend in Megeve, France, Hannah Kearney packed her bags just as she had for the last 13 seasons, globetrotting to every corner of the world. Early morning wakeup call and off to the van for a 4:00 a.m. ride to the airport. Such is life on the tour. Checklist: couple duffel bags of gear. Boots. Skis. Check. Oh, and two hard carrying cases for the Joska crystal globes. Time to go home.
Just a few hours earlier, she was at the top of the moguls run in Megeve – her 117th World Cup start. Alongside her was the Sochi Olympic silver medalist from Canada.
“Standing in the start, I reminded myself, this was my last chance,” said Kearney. “I didn’t want to have any regrets on my last run.”
There were no regrets. It was one of her finest runs – speed, aggression, precision. In the typical Hannah way, she was succinct and to the point in analyzing her performance: “I felt very pleased.”
And, well she should. In 117 World Cup starts she was on the podium 71 times, winning 46 events. In 13 seasons, she won eight World Championship medals, three gold; two Olympic medals, one gold; and 10 FIS World Cup crystal globes. Not a bad career.
Two months ago, the globes seemed quite distant. After her first win of the season in Calgary, she came to Deer Valley and was 25th.
“No matter how close I got to the record, it was never about that,” said Kearney, “It was just about skiing my best. These are the things I’ve done for the last 13 years.”
Think about this. Since Donna Weinbrecht’s first World Cup in 1988, the two American women have combined for 92 wins. They will now share an entry in the FIS record books at 46 World Cup wins each. That mark may last for a long time.
“Records are important to me because they are a testament to your training and results,” said Kearney. “Being even in the same category as Donna is huge. I never would have guessed that I would be compared to her.”
But for Kearney, it isn’t all about records. It’s about character and the standards you set as a person.
“Donna also struck me as a very kind person,” said Kearney. “Your results will last, but you need to be a good person.”
Now, it’s off to school at Westminster College and taking time to find a new passion. She’ll also take with her the experience and values she’s gained as an athlete.
Kearney reminisced about those days as a young girl when mom would drive her up to Waterville. Mom surprised her in Megeve, wanting to be there for the special occasion.
While Hannah doesn’t see herself as a pioneer, she does know the impact she has as a role model – just like Donna Weinbrecht and Liz McIntyre had on her. Next week she’ll get on a plane again, this time to Steamboat Springs for U.S. Freestyle Championships.
“I will try to ski my absolute best and enjoy the moment,” she said. “Nationals is a fun place to ski.”
Kearney won’t come to Steamboat empty-handed. “I have a plan to bring out all my moguls pants and give them away at nationals,” she laughed. “Hopefully they will help inspire someone else do well.”
Hannah, we’ll miss you. But we’ll never forget your ability to prepare, train, focus and achieve your goals. We’ll miss the intensity in your eyes and the pigtails through your helmet. But, most of all, we’ll remember you, too, as a great person who put a shining face onto the sport you loved and set a wonderful example for the next generation.