Will Kearney defend gold? - Moguls preview
KRASNAYA POLYANA - All eyes will be on Hannah Kearney (USA) tonight in the ladies' moguls event at Sochi 2014 after she has proven her dominance in the first qualification on 6th February.
One of the most dominant freestyle skiers of all time, Kearney is twice a world champion, with five world cup moguls titles, three World Cup freestyle overall titles and the Vancouver 2010 gold medal to her name. Without any doubt, Kearney will attempt to become the first freestyle skier to defend an Olympic title in the lead-off freestyle skiing competition of Sochi 2014.
However, Kearney has faced stiffer competition this season from the likes of Dufour-Lapointe (CAN), who has had two victories, and her older sister Chloe Dufour-Lapointe , who won the last World Cup moguls event before the Olympic break, in Val St Come, Canada. Both also scored second and third place in the qualifying event on 6th February at Sochi.
For her part, Kearney is not concerned about any perceived closing of the gap between her and the other ladies.
"If it's interpreted that way, then it's like everybody else is improving and I'm not improving, and I don't think that's the case," she said.
"I think I've just been punished more for my mistakes this year, which is totally reasonable. But I don't think of it as a case of everyone's getting better and I'm not getting better. It's just a nice reminder that you have to ski your best if you want to win. And that should elevate my skiing."
Her closest rival this year is Justine Dufour-Lapointe. The 19-year-old Canadian made a breakthrough early in 2014 when she beat Kearney at a world cup event in Calgary, in a competition where the American did not make any glaring errors.
It was the first time Dufour-Lapointe could claim such a win, a welcome confidence boost as she heads into her first Olympic Winter Games.
She said: "Now that I have that win, I can relate to it every time that I have doubt. I'm happy that I have it in my back pocket. But I'm going to fight for this race (at Sochi 2014). I'm going to try and give it my everything."
Along with Justine and Chloe, who sit second and third on the World Cup leaderboard, athletes to watch include fifth-ranked Maxime Dufour-Lapointe (CAN), who has had a career-best start to a season to join her younger sisters at Sochi 2014.
Then there is veteran Aiko Uemura (JPN), who will be competing in her fifth Olympic Winter Games, tying a freestyle skiing record set by her countrywoman Tae Satoya (JPN).
After the first qualifying round on Thursday, 6th February, a second qualification will be held on Saturday 8 Feb, beginning again at 17:15 (local time) and followed by the medal finals.