Luke Graham: Hannah Kearney's best is yet to come

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— Hannah Kearney was about as distraught as they come.

Tears made highways down her cheeks, emotions became byways into what this meant to her.

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For four-plus years, she has been the best in the world and entered Russia as the favorite.

A win would have cemented her as the greatest freestyle athlete in history. A win would have made her the only freestyle athlete to ever win two gold medals.

Instead, Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, of Canada, went 1-2, leaving Kearney with the bronze.

“As you can hear in my voice, it’s really hard,” Kearney said afterward. “No one in life wants the best part of their career to be behind them. Unfortunately, that’s what it feels like right now, that I was at my best in the past.”

Those words immediately stuck out to me.

Hearing that was tough to stomach. Kearney has trained occasionally in Steamboat Springs since winning that gold medal in 2010, and it’s become evident to those who've seen her that there may be no athlete who works harder.

Four years ago, her coach put a message in a card listing how much she had worked out. This year, she received a similar note detailing the same thing, the latest saying she had deadlifted and leg pressed 38,904 times since winning gold in Vancouver.

Kearney understandably struggled to answer questions without breaking down Saturday, but that wasn't the moment of her career I’ll remember. Being in Vancouver and watching her win there won't be the moment that will stick with me, either.

Four years ago, just after that gold medal, Kearney was back at Bald Eagle Lake in Steamboat Springs training.

I remember walking up and seeing red marks and bruises all over her body. She was six months removed from being the best in the world and one of few people at the water ramps. While much less accomplished skiers goofed off, Kearney was relentless on the ramps and trampoline work.

She was relearning to jump again, trying to break good and bad habits all in the name of improving.

I was astounded at the dedication. From there, I knew how much Saturday meant to her.

So when she bobbled and the board showed third place, it wasn’t hard to guess what the reaction was going to be.

Life is not over for Kearney. She’s registering for classes at Dartmouth College and eventually will be on her way to a degree from a top institution. She’ll likely win another World Cup overall title this year.

So when that quote rolled out of her mouth and beyond the tears, it took me back to the decks of Bald Eagle Lake in Steamboat. Jump after jump after jump on the trampoline, falls on the side becoming something regular.

Kearney’s done some great things in the past.

But the best part of her life isn’t behind her, it’s certainly ahead of her.

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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