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Associated Press
American Lindsey Vonn celebrates after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup downhill.
It took me a while to get over the disappointment of Torino. I was embarrassed about my performance. I knew I had more in me. But after a few months, I moved on. Looking backward doesn't help you. It's part of my career; it's part of what got me here. It all works out. —Hannah Kearney

SALT LAKE CITY — Two American skiers are redefining what it means to succeed on the slopes.

While skiing may not be America's favorite spectator sport, the accomplishments of these two athletes are worth noting not only for the sheer impressiveness of what they're accomplishing week after week, but also because of the grace and grit with which they are doing it.

Lindsey Vonn and Hannah Kearney are among those who had big dreams. Both are known for their intellectual approach and relentless hard work.

For each, the ultimate dream was fulfilled in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when they each earned gold medals in their respective sports.

Kearney bested Candian Jennifer Heil to win the gold medal in moguls, while Lindsey Vonn edged her teammate (and 2006 gold medalist) Julia Mancuso for a gold medal in downhill skiing.

At the time, Vonn said a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders and added, "Anything else from here on out is a bonus."

Kearney, on the other hand, felt a bit of redemption after not even making the finals in the 2006 Olympics.

"It took me a while to get over the disappointment of Torino. I was embarrassed about my performance. I knew I had more in me. But after a few months, I moved on. Looking backward doesn't help you. It's part of my career; it's part of what got me here. It all works out."

They stood on the top of the podium. They listened to the National Anthem, played in their honor, and they basked in the glory of being the world's best.

And then they went back to work.

Vonn, 27, never considered retirement, although Kearney, 26, did. They both went back to skiing because they found more challenges for them, despite earning gold on sport's biggest stage.

As Kearney put it, she was only the best on that one day. If she wanted to prove to herself that she was indeed "the best" she wanted to win consistently.

Anyone whose been on skis knows how difficult that is. Even if one masters the technique, the skills, the mountains, even the same mountains, are different every day.

More snow, colder temperatures, icy wind or beating sunshine. Each time one of these skiers takes to a course, there are new challenges.

The one thing they do know, after all of their successes, is just what kind of greatness lies within them. Which has led both to record-setting seasons in their respective sports.

Lindsey Vonn earned her 50th win in Alpine skiing, while Hannah Kearney proved herself the most consistent mogul skier in history with a record setting 14th-consecutive win this weekend at Deer Valley.

The victory makes Vonn the third winningest woman to ever compete in Alpine. And while Kearney set out to win as consistently as possible, Vonn never imagined she'd hit a milestone like 50 World Cup wins.

"I dreamed of winning the Olympic Gold medal," she said. "I wanted to ski like people like (Italy's) Alberto Tomba. I never dreamed I would reach the success that they had. I've pretty much been at a loss for words all day. It's definitely something I never expected and something that takes a lot of hard work to get this many wins."

Kearney was thrilled to banish any demons she might have left in her professional life. And she admits that proving to herself that she's the best may never happen.

But she plan to give it a try, acknowledging that trying to maintain a win streak does bring some new kinds of pressure.

"I sincerely try to look at each even as what I'm going to have to do to win that event," Kearney said after her 13th win Thursday. "It doesn't matter if I skied well the week before. It's a different course, a different judging panel, but I do try to build on it because I think the streak represents my goal of consistency."

And while it may seem Vonn's pending divorce from Thomas Vonn, who was one of her coaches for several years, would be a distraction, the skier said it is the icy mountainsides of the world that bring her peace.

"I'm really relaxed this year," she said. "I have confidence; I've been around the World Cup. I don't really second guess myself; I just do it. I just enjoy it in a way that I don't think I ever have in my career yet. I feel like no matter what's going on in my personal life, I can always go out and put my skis on and really have fun."

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