Four years ago at the Vancouver Olympics, Hannah Kearney captured gold in women's mogul skiing – a freestyle event defined by high-flying tricks, jumps and sharp turns. Now, with less than a month to go before the Sochi Games, the reigning champion is amped. And she's ready to go.
"The preparations may not be lifelong, but these are things that happen years in advance and aren't last-minute changes – part of an Olympic panic, if you will," says Kearney, 27, of Norwich, Vt. "I'm just feeling excited, and I think a lot of us have been training most of our lives – and certainly the past couple years – to try to make our country proud."
When Kearney calls a U.S. News reporter to talk about how she's preparing for Sochi, she's in the Salt Lake City airport waiting on baggage that didn't make her flight. Earlier in the day, she placed second in the Canada Olympic Park World Cup in Calgary, the second of six World Cups leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, which kick off in Russia on Feb. 7. She dished on everything from how she fuels her workouts to why mental mindset is so vital right now:
The Olympics countdown is on! How are you feeling?
I feel fantastic. My approach is the same every winter – although we're building to one specific goal this year with the Olympics, you still have to take it competition by competition, and try to improve every day. We have about four more competitions, so I'll use those, along with the training days between events, to try to hone my skills. But I've literally never been stronger and, obviously, I'm very excited about the Olympics.
What's your training schedule like right now?
We're in competition mode, which means that starting two days before a competition, you get to ski on that course for about two hours each day. On the actual competition days, you get about three or four hours of physical exertion – between an hour-long warm-up, recovery in-between runs, the training runs and then the runs themselves. And you're also doing pretty minimal work in the gym, just maintenance stuff like core work and low-level cardio to recover.
Speaking of the gym, do you go every day?
Six days a week, but multiple times a day. I go to the gym in the morning to warm up, and then I go to the mountain and train. Then I come home and go to the gym again to recover. But on travel days, you get pretty much no physical exertion.
What does your gym routine look like leading up to the Olympics?
Right now, because we're skiing every day, I'll do 30 minutes of cardio in the morning, and then I'll spend half an hour at the ski lodge doing mobility, plyometrics [which teaches proper jumping techniques] and stretching. Then we'll ski for a couple hours, before going back to the gym for another couple hours of cardio – pretty low-level cardio to help the muscles recover. Then we do either a core workout or what we call neural activation, which is a lot of jumping around and keeping yourself quick. The day after a competition, you'll do a strength workout, give yourself a day to recover and repeat the cycle all over again.
What's your daily diet like? How do you fuel yourself?
I eat about 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day when I'm on this schedule, and protein is definitely important. I keep track of what I eat, but I don't go to extreme limitations, either. I don't refuse anything; I just minimize certain foods and try to eat more of others. We're often eating in hotels, where you'll find a buffet – so you have to know how to make smart choices.
One of my favorite snacks is Chobani yogurt with Bear Naked granola, because it has all the nutrients I need, it's all-natural and it has a lot of protein.
It can be tough when you're on the road, but I think food is meant to be enjoyed, so whenever we go to a new place, we look for the specialty item there. We were just in Calgary, and there was a good sushi place across from the hotel where we had lunch. And in Switzerland, we cook our own reindeer on the top-stone, and that's something we look forward to. So food represents the different countries we go and places we can eat.