Mark Blinch/Landov
Lorenzo Benet
February 14, 2010 03:20 PM

When she was a little girl learning how to ski in New Hampshire, Hannah Kearney tried the traditional events – slalom and racing, but she came to a quick conclusion. They were boring. Instead, she turned to the freestyle and won four junior world titles in moguls.

She added to the trophy case Saturday. Standing at the top of the mogul course, a light snow falling around her and a wild Canadian crowd of 7,500 roaring after country favorite Jennifer Heil just laid down a terrific run to take over first place, Kearny, 23, now of Norwich, Vt., thought, I have to ski the best run of my life.

She did, negotiating 200 meters of bumps and jumps to score a 26.63 on her way to winning America s first gold medal of the Vancouver Games.

It s a goal she had been dreaming about since a disappointing 22nd place finish in the Torino Olympics 2006 but this past summer the vibe changed, after more than three rigorous years of training and dedication. I d be driving my car home and get this wonderful feeling in the pit of my stomach, like It s gonna happen, she said after her victory Saturday.

The 5-foot-6 all-around athlete is America s first Olympic gold medal winner in the event since 1992. After taking up skiing at age 2 in Waterville Valley, N.H., she loved freestyle skiing, but the straight-A student also split time as a high school soccer player and track champion. But at age 17, she took up moguls full time, encouraged by her mother, a recreation director, and her father, a youth baseball coach. Brother Denny plays hockey at Yale.

When she s not training, Kearney passes the time listening to folk music, knitting and caring for a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, Lola, which she took in from a friend who could no longer care for the dog.

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