PHOTO CREDIT: REUTERS/MIKE BLAKE
(Reuters) – Olympic moguls champion Hannah Kearney has plenty on her mind as she prepares to defend her title in Sochi but security is not one of the U.S. freestyle skier’s bigger concerns.
“I truly feel just as safe and secure here as I have at the previous two Olympics,” she told reporters on Monday after her first few days in the athletes’ village in the mountains.
“We’ve never stayed in the athletes’ village before while we’re competing and actually that adds an element of comfort because you are already in the secure zone. So we’re just walking up the hill right to our mogul course…It’s been wonderful.”
Security at the Winter Games has been likened to a sixth Olympic ring around Sochi, which lies on the western edge of the mainly Muslim North Caucasus where an insurgency is aiming to create an Islamist state.
Concern about potential attacks on a showcase event for Russian leader Vladimir Putin grew after twin suicide bombings in December killed 34 people in Volgograd, a city some 700 km (400 miles) northeast of Sochi.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said he believes Sochi is safe and Kearney, focusing on her training, agreed it felt that way so far.
In Vancouver four years ago, getting to the Olympic competition venue at Cypress Mountain involved the stresses of travelling by van through repeated security checks and metal detectors.
“Clearly there have been a lot of questions about security and a lot of focus on it, and with that (we) came in with some expectations that it would be different and more stressful and it has not,” said the 27-year-old.
Kearney, the overwhelming favorite to return home to Norwich, Vermont, with a second title, won the test event in Sochi last year as well as world championship gold.
She said the Olympic moguls piste should suit her style even if conditions have changes since last year when they were warm and slushy and similar to Vancouver. Now the snow is firmer and more like it was in Turin in 2006.
“I think that bodes well for a strong technical team like us,” she said. “Having the firmer base is a great thing for the course.”
The physical characteristics have changed because of the extra snow, with more rolls and a steeper top section, and there is far more at stake now.
“There was absolutely nothing on the line technically a year ago and now everything supposedly is on the line,” Kearney said of her prospects.
“I know that everyone wants to beat me even more and there’s no place to go from the top but fall or stay there.
“If you are wearing the number one bib and are the Olympic gold medalist, no matter what happens on the day you are never going to be the underdog. So it sort of changes your mentality a little bit.”
Kearney, however, said her approach remained the same and there would be no complacency and although her rivals might be younger, and maybe hungrier, the American is feeling strong.
“Have you seen my thighs?,” she laughed. “I am built for mogul skiing.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)