SOCHI, Russia -- Hannah Kearney is dealing with the pressure of defending her Olympic gold medal the same way she handles the course.
Fearlessly and directly.
The freestyle moguls skier is widely considered the favorite in her event -- which starts Thursday with qualifying -- and even a lock in some quarters. Kearney, then in the underdog position, upset the hyped home-country favorite, Jenn Heil, to win in Vancouver in 2010.
“In the grand scheme of my life, it’s had a large impact in that I will always be the 2010 Olympic champion,” Kearney said on Monday afternoon at a news conference at Gorki Media Center in the mountains.
“However, it hasn’t changed who I am as a person. It hasn’t changed my other life goals, hasn’t changed what my goals are at this Olympics. It doesn’t change how I train, except that I know everyone wants to beat me even more. I know there’s no place to go at the top but to fall or to stay there.
“It’s easier to be the underdog. There’s scientific research about that. I’m not the underdog. ... I certainly don’t want it to let it make me complacent, ‘Oh, well, I already have that gold medal.’ As soon as I take a sigh of relief, that’s where they swoop in there and get you.”
Kearney later got off the best line of the session. She was asked about the physical demands of the event and downplayed the difficulties, saying that dual moguls (not an Olympic sport) takes much more of a toll on the circuit.
“This will be a breeze compared to that,” she said. “Secondly, have you seen my thighs? I am built for moguls skiing. That’s not going to be a problem.”