Hannah is the best skier in the world, men’s and women’s. She has more medals than any other athlete in all of FIS. Everybody looks up to Hannah when we’re in the gate. —USSA Freestyle director Todd Schirman, on Hannah Kearney

PARK CITY – Defending Olympic gold medal mogul skier Hannah Kearney and aerial skier Emily Cook will lead the newly nominated U.S. Olympic freestyle team in Sochi, Russia, next month.

USSA Freestyle director Todd Schirman said the group of six women and three men will represent the U.S. well at the 2014 Winter Games.

“We are so fantastically excited to have real podium potential,” he said. “We have an incredible team, and everybody on the team has podium potential.”

Kearney is the obvious favorite to earn a medal as she’s been on the podium (usually the top spot) in every World Cup but one this season. She also won 16 straight mogul competitions from January 2011 to February 2012. A training accident left her with a lacerated liver, broken ribs and a punctured lung in October 2012 and forced her to miss the first two World Cup events of the 2013 season.

When she came back, it didn’t take her long to get back on the podium. She won six of the final 10 events and the World Championship.

“Hannah is the best skier in the world, men’s and women’s,” Schirman said. “She has more medals than any other athlete in all of FIS. Everybody looks up to Hannah when we’re in the gate.”

This is Kearney’s third Olympics and she tweeted about her nomination Tuesday, pointing out that in her first Olympics in 2006 she didn’t even own a cellphone.

“Now I’m tweeting,” she said.

The other mogul skiers are Washington’s Patrick Deneen, Montana’s Bradley Wilson, Colorado’s Heidi Kloser, and Connecticut’s Eliza Outtrim. Heather McPhie and Deneen join Kearney, Cook and aerial skier Ashley Caldwell as former Olympians.

Cook is the oldest athlete on the team at 33 years old. She’s also the most experienced having qualified for four Olympics and competing in two. An injury kept her from her first Olympic berth in 2002.

Cook hopes the third time is the charm as she chases that elusive Olympic medal. Cook is an asset to the team — on and off the hill.

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“She is the mother hen,” Schirman said. “She takes care of everybody. We have some people who have not been to the Olympics. She’ll help the whole team perform at a higher level.”

Caldwell and Mac Bohonnon join Cook as aerial competitors. It’s the smallest group of freestyle athletes since the sport was included in the Olympics in 1994 because IOC officials limit countries to 26 athletes across all of freestyle and freeskiing disciplines. The U.S. took the maximum number of athletes in freeskiing, most of which qualified by earning at least two podiums this winter.

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