I'm just having so much fun, just pushing the sport, just doing that D-spin every single run, and getting experience all the time and knocking on the door to beat Hannah one of these days soon. —U.S. teammate Heather McPhie
PARK CITY — Undefeated in 12 consecutive mogals competitions, Hannah Kearney experienced something new for her this season — second best.
And then, less than 30 minutes later, she sliced and slashed the Champion run at Deer Valley in the FIS World Cup with the speed and perfection that has come to define her skiing since she lost at World Championships on this same course last year by four 100ths of a point.
Kearney, the reigning Olympic champion, has been so dominant this season that she has not trailed after any single run — not qualifying, not final, and, as she's won every competition, never after Super Final.
But Thursday night, she found herself trailing her U.S. teammate Heather McPhie heading into the Super Final.
"She beat me in that … run," said Kearney after she edge McPhie for her 13th consecutive win with a score of 25.21. McPhie was second with a score of 24.77. "So the pressure was on. And the strange format change made it so she had to come down first. So I had the advantage of hearing her score, even though she'd beat me in that final run."
McPhie earned points with the judges, as well as the crowd, as she is the only woman who competes with the D-spin, a thrilling off-axis jump on the bottom air.
"I'm just having so much fun, just pushing the sport, just doing that D-spin every single run, and getting experience all the time and knocking on the door to beat Hannah one of these days soon," McPhie said. "I think I did push her. It's the first time she hasn't been in first for any single run so I'm stoked. Especially because I haven't competed the D-spin that much, and I'm just really starting to learn and with every single run I'm getting better. I'm really stoked with my progress this season."
U.S. Freestyle coach Todd Schirman was thrilled with his team's effort Thursday night.
"It's absolutely amazing having three out of the four women in the Super Finals," he said. "It's really amazing to see all of our women stepping up on (degree of difficulty). Three out of the four girls doing two inverts, doing D-spins, doing back-fulls, it's really nice to see our women pushing the sport, and having the results to show for it."
Having McPhie being the one pushing Kearney was a bonus.
"It's a very good thing," he said. "This is the first time that Kearney has really been challenged. It put a lot of pressure on her and it got her nerves rolling, and that's really important for us to make her better. And to have Heather McPhie, being that person, being that person pushing Hannah, it's just an amazing feeling and I'm really proud of all of them."
Asked what she might have to do to beat her teammate, McPhie grinned. "Not much," she said. "I need to be a tiny bit faster. I need to clean up that bottom air a little, and with the Super Final, it's exhausting. And this course is super long, so keep working on my endurance and make those turns perfect."
Kearney was grateful for the pressure from her teammates, but also that she was able to rise to the occasion. She'd said she wanted redemption for losing on the course last year.
"Good thing I didn't make myself look really dumb," said Kearney. "Last year, I lost to Jen Heil at World Champinships, which is a big deal. But to me this world cup is big deal, so to come out on top feels great."
On the men's side, Candian Mikael Kingsbury continued his undefeated streak this season by tying the record score of 25.90 set by American skier Jeremy Bloom in 2005. Reigning Olympic gold medalist Alexandrew Bilodeau and Kingsbury's teammate was second with a score of 25.60. Norway's Vinjar Slatten was third with a score of 25.05, while American Patrick Deneen was fourth with a score of 23.82.
Friday features the team's aerial athletes, who begin finals at 7:45 p.m.