Steamboat Springs Even for Hannah Kearney, there was modest concern.
Arguably the most decorated American women’s mogul skier in history, Kearney was back on skis this week in Steamboat Springs attacking top-to-bottom runs for the first time since October.
Kearney fractured two ribs and bruised her liver in a Oct. 5 crash in Zermatt, Switzerland. The crash left her in a hospital bed for five days and out of competition for the first two World Cups of the season. It was the first World Cup Kearney had missed because of injury since 2008, when she was out with a concussion.
“The tricks came back easy. I’ve done it so many times,” Kearney said Saturday. “But it’s impossible to not be nervous. I mean the last time you did it, you ended up in a hospital.”
The crash happened after Kearney landed a trick and didn’t absorb the shock. She skied 10 to 15 feet on one ski before she crashed into a mogul.
“I knew it wasn’t my knee or my head,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to ski tomorrow.’ But five days I was on bed rest in a hospital. I’d never spent a day in the hospital, so five was way too much.”
Kearney spent the subsequent months off skis. Her training initially consisted of just walking. But as she progressed, she began to workout, lift weights and get stronger.
“Right now, I’m probably as strong as I have ever been,” she said.
But it was tough on Kearney. She couldn’t bear to watch the first World Cup of the season, instead taking in a powder day at Alta Ski Area.
Last month, she started to ski a course for the first time at the U.S. Selections event in Copper Mountain.
She arrived Jan. 1 in Steamboat after finally being cleared to ski top to bottom on a course and do jumps.
Kearney is familiar with Steamboat; she trained in town the summer after winning the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics. She said the course at Steamboat Ski Area is similar to the one at Lake Placid, N.Y. — the site of the next World Cup.
More importantly, Kearney said it was relieving to get back on skis and put together runs, something she hasn’t been able to do in three months.
“It felt really good,” she said. “I felt normal.”
Kearney’s return to the World Cup is good news for mogul skiing. The Vermont native had an eye-opening run last season.
From the 2010-11 to 2011-12 seasons, she won a record 16 consecutive World Cups, the longest streak in any discipline.
Last season, Kearney won 11 of 13 World Cup events, reaffirming her position as the best in the world. This season, she said she wants to continue that.
“There is no reason why not,” she said. "I’m at a 200 point disadvantage for the overall title, and I’m at zero. When you look at last year, I guess I could increase my win percentage. I want to think that way.”
The injury gave Kearney perspective, and she said it gave her more appreciation for the sport. The time off was good for her and made her grateful for mogul skiing.
And for the girl who has won just about every competition in moguls, she still finds motivation to be the best in the world. Her goal is to win again at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Should she do that, she’d be the first to be a repeat gold medalist in moguls.
“The Olympics are right around the corner,” she said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to defend that title. My motivation hasn’t been lacking to get back to my main goal. That hasn’t been the case. I really have no less motivation now.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com