Nate Roberts and Hannah Kearney win moguls gold at Freestyle worlds

Nate Roberts and Hannah Kearney win moguls gold at Freestyle worlds{mosimage}RUKA, Finland (March 19) – Nate Roberts (Park City, UT) and Hannah Kearney (Norwich, VT) swept the moguls gold medals Saturday at the 2005 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships. Roberts became the first U.S. men’s world champion while Kearney is the first U.S. woman champion since Ann Battelle won in 1999.

Roberts received eye drops from the U.S. medical staff at the start of the day after he woke up and was having problems seeing after watching aerials Friday night. Ruka’s lights at the freestyle complex reportedly are the strongest artificial lights in the world.

As the drops settled in and he rolled through the semifinals (qualifying) in fifth place, he felt better. He won with 26.90 points to 26.83 for Canadian Marc-Andre Moreau while Dale Begg-Smith of Australia was bronze medalist with Toby Dawson (Vail, CO), the only other American among the 16 in finals, was fifth at 26.12.

Roberts’ title – the first by an American man in Worlds competition (Bloom was silver medalist at Deer Valley, Utah, in 2003 while Dawson was bronze medalist, as was Chuck Martin at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1991) – also was the third medal for the U.S. Ski Team at the Championships. Kearny’s was No. 2 and Kristi Leskinen (Uniontown, PA) took silver in ski halfpipe.

Olympic medalist Travis Mayer (Steamboat Springs, CO) was 17th and World Cup champion Jeremy Bloom (Loveland, CO) slapped back on landing his second jump at the bottom and finished 36th.

The Finns who were 1-2-3 in qualifying – Olympic champion Janne Lahtela, then Sami Mustonen and defending world champ Mikko Ronkainen – inexplicably dissolved in finals. Lahtela had the best finish, coming in eighth.

Eye problem to start things
Roberts had two wins a year ago in his first World Cup season and another this winter. But perhaps his gold-medal showing was surprising because of the eye problem to begin the day. “I woke up around 6 o’clock and I was rubbing my eyes quite badly. But at breakfast the team doctor helped me; my right was kinda still asleep, but he gave me something, some kind of antibiotics, and after about 30-40 minutes, I was good to go.”

While the Finns led qualifying, Roberts sat in fifth for the flip-16 final round. “I thought I was sitting in a good position,” said Roberts, who crashed a year ago in Ruka to open the 2004 World Cup season, his first World Cup in Europe.

“I skied my game and had two great jumps. This is great – I’m so psyched.”

Between semis and finals, he said, he went back to his hotel room and felt weak “but then I had a feeling it was gonna be a good day.” He ran the same run as qualifying, a backflip off the top jump and a flip with iron cross at the bottom.

“I had a great run from top to bottom,” he said of his final late-day run. “I thought the lighting was a little strange; it wasn’t dark and the light conditions made it tough to pickup my landings.”

In the end, he said, he didn’t have any great concern coming into the day. “It wasn’t that hard. My training’s gone well this week and I tried to treat it like another World Cup and ski great, ski with what got me here.”

Coach: Roberts trusted himself
Moguls Head Coach Donnie St. Pierre, said, “I’m used to having five or six guys in finals, and today we only had two bullets in the chamber, so I felt a little naked, if you will, but they stayed the course. Nate was amazing. He didn’t try to get beyond himself; he did the same run as semis…and he executed perfectly. He didn’t give the judges anything where they could deduct anything major.

“Nate had to be faster and go higher than in semis, and he did it beautifully. He stayed within himself, trusting his skills…and now he’s the champion.”

“I love Finland,” laughed Kearney, 19, who won the first of her four Junior World Championships moguls titles at Iso-Syote, Finland, in 2002. “And I like this hill,” a reference to finishing third in Ruka to open the 2004 World Cup season.

Kearney, fourth in qualifying, clicked on a backflip and iron cross off the top jump of her gold-medal run with a heli-X (or heli-iron cross, a 360-degree spin with her skis pulled under her in an X) off the bottom jump. She finished with 26.40 points to 26.31 for Czech Nikola Sudova, who was third in the semifinal (qualifying) round. Sudova and Austrian Margarita Marbler tied at 26.31 but Sudova got the silver medal on a tiebreaker formula.

All four U.S. women made it to finals. Jillian Vogtli (Ellicotville, NY) was sixth, Laurel Shanley (Squaw Valley, CA) seventh and Michelle Roark (Denver, CO) 13th.

Differing opinions on Kearney’s gold-medal factors
“I skied the middle section faster than my first run [semis] and I think that helped me move up,” Kearney said. “I had a tiny little bobble as I went over the finish line, but otherwise it was a clean run.

“I knew it was a good run but I also left the door open a little with that bobble.” In the end, the top three from qualifying – Marbler, Canadian Stephanie St. Pierre and then Sudova – couldn’t match her.

U.S. coaches saw the run differently. Technical Coach Liz McIntyre felt Kearney’s heli-X at the bottom clinched the deal for her. “Her airs won it for Hannah; they really shined,” McIntyre said. “The bottom is the steepest part and she hit that heli-X and just skied off…and left no doubt in the judges’ minds.”

“I think what won the hearts and minds of the judges was Hannah’s turns. She has such a natural touch,” according to St. Pierre. “She has such an ability to stay focused and ski her run…”

Said Kearney, “Well, a lot of it was luck, too. The people ahead of me [in semis] made mistakes in their final run, and I laid down a good one.”

The World Championships conclude Sunday with dual moguls and the U.S. skiers return for the Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships March 24-26 at Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort and Utah Olympic Park.

Ruka, FIN – March 19, 2005

Men’s Moguls (16 made finals)
1. Nate Roberts, Park City, Utah, 26.90 points
2. Marc-Andre Moreau, Canada, 26.83
3. Dale Begg-Smith, Australia, 26.75
4. Guilbart Colas, France, 26.20
5. Toby Dawson, Vail, Colo., 26.12
17. Travis Mayer, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
36. Jeremy Bloom, Loveland, Colo.

Women’s Moguls
1. Hannah Kearney, Norwich, Vt., 26.40
2. Nikola Sudova, Czech Republic, 26.31 (silver medal on tiebreaker)
3. Margarita Marbler, Austria, 26.31
4. Aiko Uemura, Japan, 26.21
5. Jennifer Heil, Canada, 25.95
6. Jillian Vogtli, Ellicotville, N.Y., 25.85
7. Laurel Shanley, Squaw Valley, Calif., 25.65
13. Michelle Roark, Denver, 23.55



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