Freestyle: Kearney denies Canada first gold

Vancouver  – America’s Hannah Kearney won the women’s moguls freestyle skiing title on Saturday, denying host nation Canada its first gold of the Games.

Kearney scored 26.63 points with Canada’s 2006 Olympic champion Jennifer Heil on 25.69. Shannon Bahrke of the United States, who took silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, claimed with 25.43 points.

Kearney’s win — the first American gold in Vancouver — extended Canada’s long wait to win an Olympic title on home ground with the hosts having failed to do so at the 1976 Montreal Summer Games as well as the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

Amid gathering tension among the home fans as the race reached its climax, favourite Heil moved into the leading medal position with only Kearney to race but the American produced a stunning performance to seal the win.

Kearney said finishing top of qualifying was a huge boost and she was learning how to cope with the pressure of going last after being in that position a number of times this year.

“I’m learning to embrace being in first place after the first run. It means the judges like your skiing and you know exactly what you have to do,” said Kearney, who has a Canadian mother.

“Rarely does it change what you do in your second run when you hear the results but I heard the roar of the crowd, heard Jen’s score and I knew I was going to have to ski the best of my life.”

In wet and windy conditions under the lights at the problem-plagued Cypress Mountain course, Kearney became the first American to take the women’s moguls gold since Donna Weinbrecht in Albertville in 1992.

Kearney, 23, who has stood on top of the World Cup podium twice this season, won the World Cup moguls title in 2009 but struggled at the 2006 Games in Turin and did not qualify for the final.

When asked if she felt her performance had been enough to secure gold, Heil said: “I definitely feel like I had a few gaps, there’s no doubt about it. I was going for gold but there was so much competition out there today.”

Heather McPhie of the United States, second in the World Cup points rankings, qualified in third place but crashed out after her second jump while Canada’s Kristi Richards also lost control.

The women’s moguls finals went ahead despite fears that fog, low clouds and gusts of wind would force organisers to postpone it.

Moguls is a judged event that also uses the objective measurement of time. Athletes ski down a steep slope covered in bumps or “moguls” and perform two different jumps.

Competitors only have one run in qualifying and one in the final.

Cypress, to the north of Vancouver, has been badly affected by the unseasonal, warm temperatures which prompted a round-the-clock operation to bring in snow from higher elevations to make the venue ready for the Games.

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