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Having skied in three Olympic Games — winning gold in women’s moguls at Vancouver in 2010 — New England native Hannah Kearney has found a new way to challenge herself on the sports world’s biggest stage.
Kearney, 35, is enjoying what she described as the “exhilarating” transition from competitive skiing to broadcasting. As one of the newer members of NBC’s Olympic broadcasting team, she quickly embraced the unusual conditions — and timezone differences — of being a television analyst for the Beijing Olympics despite not being in Beijing.
“There are days of sleep deprivation. There are days you get to sleep in the middle of the day. There are blackout shades. NBC is taking care of all of our meals at the campus. So we’re in a setting where we can thrive, even though it’s absolutely challenging,” Kearney explained in a recent interview.
Along with almost all of the on-air commentators, Kearney has been calling events from NBC Sports Group’s “campus” located in Stamford, Connecticut due to pandemic-related conditions.
“Let’s say it’s irregular if nothing else,” she quipped.
“Being on this campus genuinely feels almost like you’re back in high school,” she joked. “You take the bus to the campus and then you check the cafeteria schedule for when the good meals are going to be served. You’re studying all the time, and basically cramming for tests. But because we’re all in one spot, you kind of have a support team behind you in a way that probably wouldn’t be the same if we were all spread out at different venues.”
One pleasant aspect of the school-like atmosphere is running into her classmates who, in this case, are fellow former Olympians.
“On the first day, we were here really early because our events started before the Opening Ceremony. I was like, ‘Oh, there’s Lindsey Vonn and her dog walking through the cafeteria,'” Kearney recalled. “I haven’t seen her in a couple years, so I was able to chat with her in between gigs for both of us. And Kikkan Randall, I ran into her the other morning. She was leaving a broadcast and I was heading into a booth. We just passed in the hallway and chatted too. So it really feels like an Olympic athlete high school.”
Kearney had the call on NBC for the freestyle events, including her specialty: the mogul competitions.
In women’s moguls, U.S. skier Jaelin Kauf took home the silver medal after tearing through her final run at maximum speed.
Kearney sees some of herself in Kauf, especially in terms of maturing through multiple Olympic experiences.
Like Kearney’s own story—which included a disappointing 2006 Torino Olympics before achieving gold in 2010—Kauf entered the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang as the favorite, only to finish without a medal.
“I can relate to the redemption because I had a similar Olympic experience,” said Kearney. The two spoke shortly before Kauf left the U.S. to head for China.
“I could just tell she was in a good spot,” Kearney recalled. “She actually reached out to me, which I thought showed a lot of maturity.”
Trying a different approach when it came to the Olympics, Kearney noted, had paid off for her at Vancouver in her second go-around. She recognized Kauf was following the same strategy, which helped lead to success.
Part of it, Kearney noted, comes from the uniqueness of the Olympics itself, both in terms of scale and pressure.
“It’s impossible to articulate what makes the Olympics special and different to someone who’s never been there. Typically the first-time Olympians think—and they’re not wrong—that it’s gonna take the same skillset to win this competition,” said Kearney.
Yet while the technical requirements for the event remain the same as they would be in a regular non-Olympic competition, everything else outside of it is more intense. Appreciating the special circumstances can help athletes relax, a point that Kearney noted Kauf achieved in Beijing.
“It was very clear that she had realized that, embraced it, and was out there to put on a show and have a good time,” Kearney pointed out. “She skied relaxed and confidently and better than she has all year at the moment that counted. So that was absolutely fun to both watch and commentate.”
Having called New England home for her entire life (when not competing), Kearney finally left the area after retiring from competition in 2015, capping a career that included 46 World Cup wins and two Olympic medals.
She moved to Utah so that she could go back to school, and now lives in Park City, helping to train and provide support for Olympic athletes. Even still, Kearney confessed that she’s constantly “looking for ways to come back as much as possible” to where she grew up.
“My soul is most certainly a New England soul.”
Kearney learned how to ski at Burke Mountain in Vermont, and still enjoys making her way through some local bump runs. Asked for her go-to choices, Kearney listed Outer Limits at Killington, but reserved praise for a trail that holds significance in her own career.
“True Grit at Waterville Valley under the Sunnyside chairlift,” Kearney said. “It’s always fun to have a bump run under a chairlift because then you get people shouting at you from the chair.”
It was also the site of her first official mogul competition, when she was just nine years old.
“Now that I’ve been back there and I go ski that, I’m like that is a mean bump course,” she admitted. But while so much has changed since that first event — including a decorated freestyle skiing career — Kearney still holds a special place in her heart for the New Hampshire run.
“That one, that’s probably my favorite.”
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