- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Hannah Kearney toils in relative obscurity at women’s moguls, where since the 2010 Olympics, she has positioned herself as the closest thing there is to a sure thing on snow.

She knows the deal. In her sport, there’s one really big night every four years.

That’s why the tears flowed hard Saturday night after she won an Olympic bronze medal that seems destined to land in a sock drawer back home in Norwich, Vt.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel good,” she said. “It feels better to stand at the top of the podium.”

She did that in 2010 - “The best prize ever,” she called the gold medal that night.

It felt even better because of the heartache she’d endured four years earlier.

In 2006, Kearney was 19, the defending world champion and a good bet to contend for gold. Two turns into qualifying, she was all but gone - losing her bearings on a bump and never recovering. Didn’t make it to the finals and finished 22nd.

Eight years later, it was a different bump - a mogul placed just after the landing on the top jump - that Kearney simply could not master. Not in practice, not in her first run, her second, or her third and final, where her left ski veered off line. The sort of error the judges simply do not miss.

“I made a huge mistake and you don’t win a gold medal at the Olympics when you make a mistake,” she said.

She wound up a footnote to Canada’s memorable night. Sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe won the gold and silver - outskiing Kearney, who beats them both more often than not.

Kearney is 27 now, and the toll this game takes on the knees often knocks people out by the time they turn 30. Kearney will have to let some of the pain clear before she decides what to do next.

In the aftermath of a bronze-medal win that felt more like a loss, she rendered a heartbreaking summary of where her career stands.

“No one in life wants their best part of their career to be behind them,” she said. “And unfortunately, that’s what it feels like right now.”

- Eddie Pells - Twitter https://twitter.com/epells


Associated Press reporters will be filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: https://apne.ws/1c3WMiu

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