Steamboat Springs When the U.S. moguls team begins its quest in Sochi, Russia, it all will begin with a single name.
The Vermont native has become the Michael Jordan of her sport. Sporting pigtails through her helmet, she’s anything but Pippi Longstocking.
She is hell on skis. After a huge disappointment at the 2006 Olympic Games, Kearney has run amok on her competition since.
She won the 2010 Olympic gold — the United States’ first gold in Vancouver — and has continued to cruise in the past three seasons. She was the moguls Crystal Globe winner in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
She has 36 career World Cup victories. At one point, from early 2011 to 2012, she won 16 consecutive World Cups.
Now, as already one of the most decorated freestyle skiers in history, Kearney will have a shot to cement herself as the best ever.
A win in Sochi would make her the first freestyle athlete to ever win back-to-back golds.
But there will be competition, and if Kearney has shown any weaknesses, it may have come in the final couple of World Cups.
She finished the past two with third- and fourth-place finishes. Canada’s Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe are right on Kearney’s heels in the World Cup standings.
Americans Heidi Kloser, Heather McPhie and Steamboat skier Eliza Outtrim all have the ability to podium, but only Kloser was able to beat Kearney this season.
On the men’s side, the United States’ best hope is former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club member Patrick Deneen.
Deneen, who is third in the World Cup standings, will make his third trip to the Olympics.
He is joined by first-time Olympian Bradley Wilson. The odds-on favorites are again a pair of Canadians. Defending Olympic gold medalist Alex Bilodeau is mere points ahead of countryman Mikael Kingsbury.
Between the pair, the two have won all six World Cups this season.
The women’s event begins Feb. 8 with the men to follow Feb. 10.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham
2014 Winter Carnival Guide and Steamboat to Sochi Olympic Preview
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