KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – They stood just feet apart on the podium at the base of the moguls course, but Hannah Kearney, on the third-place step, couldn't have felt further apart from the young Canadian sisters, 22-year-old Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, on the second-place step, and 19-year-old Justine on top.
Tears streamed down Kearney's face as she realized not just that she had failed to repeat as Olympic moguls champion, but that her Olympic experience was over. The Dufour-Lapointe sisters, however, are just getting started.
Kearney was trying to become the first free skier in Olympic history to win consecutive gold medals, and she nearly had it late Saturday night. But a tricky bump near the top of the run caused a bobble in each of her three runs, just enough of a mistake to allow the sisters to leap-frog her to the top of the podium.
"I think I really gave it away is what it felt like. It was mine to ski for. I did try my best. The only positive I can see I guess is that I didn't lose because I was conservative, or being complacent," Kearney said.
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Kearney had been the bright new face at an Olympics before – first as a wide-eyed overwhelmed 19-year-old in Turin, and then four years ago as an underdog challenger in Vancouver, where she was the one who pulled off the upset in knocking off gold medal favorite Jenn Heil. Here in Sochi, she was the overwhelming favorite.
"It's very difficult coming off of a gold. From the top there is nowhere to go but stay there or fall, and I fell. Only two places, but enough that it really feels like a disappointment," Kearney said. "No one in life wants the best part of their career to be behind them, and unfortunately that's what it feels like right now, that I've done my best in my past."
Kearney isn't retiring just yet – she will compete in more World Cup events – but Saturday's run under the lights in the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park was her final time on an Olympic course. At age 27, she has decided the 2018 Games in Pyeongyang, South Korea, is not an option.
Whenever Kearney does retire, she'll leave as one of the most accomplished American moguls skiers, having not just won the gold in 2010 and this bronze, but 27 of 37 World Cup races in the four years between. She also overcame a brutal crash a year ago in which she broke several ribs and suffered internal injuries that left her in severe pain and unable to do much physical rehabilitation. By the time the 2013 season was over, she had won the overall title.
Many of those battles came against the Dufour-Lapointe sisters (the eldest sister, Maxime, finished 12th, eliminated in the semifinal), who on Saturday became only the second set of sisters to win gold and silver in the same Olympic event.
With parents Johane Dufour and Yves LaPointe watching anxiously from the standing viewing area – leaning up against a railing to be as close to their daughters as possible – Justine scored the best run of the day in the six-woman super final, receiving a score of 22.44. Her parents cheered and clapped for several moments, then fell silent as Chloe pointed her skis down the run.
Her run was good, but not as good as her sister's. With only Kearney left to ski, the Dufour-LaPointes let themselves begin to celebrate. When Kearney faltered, the parents erupted. They hugged, and screamed and cried, and were mobbed by reporters and other members of the Canadian contingent.
How great it must be to watch one child win an Olympic medal. But two? On the same day, in the same event?
"I'm so happy for my three daughters, all three Olympians, two medals at home. Incredible. I'm so anxious to grab and kiss them. I haven't had a chance the last three weeks, so bring me my babies!" Dufour said.
Johane and Yves enrolled their daughters in ski lessons when each was between two and a half and three years old. The family's first love was sailing, but the girls needed an outlet in the winter. They were competitors, but never rivals, and always best friends – even Saturday night, when they knew only one of them could win a gold medal.
The sisters held hands as they stood atop their podiums for the flower ceremony (they will receive their medals in Sochi on Sunday) and locked eyes.
"It meant that I wasn't alone, you know? I was there, and couldn't imagine that I would step up on the first step of the podium," Justine said. "I was shocked, and then I saw Chloe, and I felt calm again. I took her hand, and you know what, Chloe, we will live that moment together, and it will be more like home."
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