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A rededicated Hannah Kearney overcame Canada's moguls favorite to give the U.S. its first gold medal

Hannah Kearney reached into a small bag in the backseat of the Vancouver 2010 mini-SUV that was going to transport her from doping control to wherever the life of an Olympic champion goes next and grabbed an envelope that U.S. ski team strength coach Alex Moore had given to her that morning. She ripped it open, unfolded the note inside and in a firm voice that carries only a hint of her beloved Vermont began reading aloud: "Hannah, since May, 14,000 jumps, 126 hours of A-1 jogs or bikes, 450-plus [training] sessions, 140 recovery hot-cold baths, 1,000 jumps on the water ramps, 224 visual-coaching-program diary entries, 21 hours at lactate threshold, 190 sets of Supermans—" She paused. "A stretching exercise," she explained as the rain that had pelted the Cypress Mountain moguls course continued its tattoo on a sodden Saturday night. "Fourteen hundred reps of squats, 1,500 Romanian deadlifts or glutes/hams and 470 pull-ups." This was a laundry list of the maniacal, a compendium of sweat equity that had lifted her in a backflip and a 360-helicopter and then propelled her across the finish line for the first American gold medal of the XXI Olympic Winter Games.

If the conditions were not exactly out of the British Columbia Tourism brochure—the rolling fog near the starting line occasionally obscured the modest mountain on Vancouver's North Shore—the driving rain was the perfect ablution. Kearney needed to wash from her record the stain of 2006, when, as world champion and Olympic favorite, she failed to make it past the preliminary round in Turin.

She is no longer the all-everything soccer player--track star--skier who, four years ago as a 19-year-old, came out of tiny Norwich, Vt. (pop. 3,508), stood at the start and assumed a medal would materialize as it always had. She grew because of the Olympic-sized disappointment of failing her country and her friends. She learned about love for skiing after suffering an ACL tear in 2007 and a concussion in '08 that combined to sideline her for the better part of two seasons. And she paid for her hubris with all those water-ramp jumps on Lake Placid and Romanian deadlifts and the other training she did on her own at her Norwich home and fastidiously recorded on her laptop before uploading it to Moore so he could chart her progress at the U.S. ski team's training center in Park City. She is a better moguls skier now than she was in Turin and also a better teammate, stripped of some of the veneer of arrogance that marked if not marred her. If Olympics were grade school, Kearney's report card would have read, Does not play well with others. "Four years ago [the U.S. women's moguls] team was a lot more catty, a lot more competitive," she said in a postrace press conference. Later Kearney conceded she probably was the straw stirring the toxic brew. "Now I'm better to be around," she said. "I was stubborn. I wasn't as focused."

There can be no questioning her focus now, given her smashing victory over silver medalist Jennifer Heil, the Turin champion who was favored to become the first Canadian ever to win a gold medal at home. (Canada, host of the 1976 Summer Games and the 1988 Winter Olympics, was 0 for 249 events after Heil failed to defend her title.) Kearney's time down the 250-meter course plus her precise turns and airy jumps were the best of the competition. In a sport often decided by tenths of a point, she was stunned when told in the SUV of her .94 margin of victory. Kearney figured it would be difficult for the judges not to be swayed by the raucous crowd, which included Prime Minister Stephen Harper, there in anticipation of seeing history made by a Canadian. The rain couldn't spoil the party, but in the end a half-Canadian did. (That Kearney's mother, Jill, is Canadian and met her husband, Tom, while studying at McGill University in Montreal was of little solace to the locals.) A career run by a changed woman who had meticulously charted her own course ensured that for one more day at least, they'd be singing 0-fer Canada on the victory stand.



FAST WORK Kearney's quick, error-free run (right) put her atop the medal stand between Heil (1) and teammate Shannon Bahrke.



[See caption above]