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Kearney wins U.S. gold in women's moguls

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It took Hannah Kearney 27.86 seconds down a windy, rainy course on Saturday to erase four years of quiet disappointment and introspection.

One pressure-packed run to show that Turin, Italy, was not going to define her Olympic experience. Kearney snatched gold away from Canada on the very last run of a drama-filled women's moguls final, a night filled with sublime skiing and spectacular crashes.

Kearney won the first gold medal for the United States at these Olympics, taking the air out of a jubilant, expectant crowd that was here at Cypress Mountain to watch Jenn Heil of Canada.

It was supposed to be a moment for all the Canadian athletes who, at worst, faltered on over-pressurized home soil during the Olympics, or, at best, overachieved and came up just shy of gold.

Not that an individual gold medal in Vancouver could erase something like the seismic failure of the men's Olympic hockey team in Calgary in 1988.

But finally, and mercifully, it could put an end to the ever-present chatter and questions about the failure of Canada to win gold during an Olympics it was hosting.

The wait got just a bit longer and a bit more agonizing.

Heil wasn't a lock, by any stretch. No one could really be considered such a favorite in this random sport on such an inclement night. But she was the defending Olympic champion, and the spectators were ready for a golden coronation.

The woman ruining the Canadian party was Kearney, who failed to make the final four years ago at the Turin Games. Heil put down her own spectacular run just before Kearney's and had to wait to see whether she would win gold or silver.

It was a tight contest. Kearney had 26.63 points to Heil's 25.69. Shannon Bahrke took the bronze for the United States.

Conditions deteriorated quickly in the hour before the race, with the wind picking up and the rain falling harder. The first huge spill of the finals came from 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tae Satoya of Japan, the eighth skier down the course.

An even bigger tumble came six skiers later. Veteran American freestyler Michelle Roark gambled big, attempting a big 720 and crashing hard. Also going down were two other top skiers, Heather McPhie of the United States and Kristi Richards of Canada.

There had been some discussion earlier in the day about possibly having the finals rescheduled because of inclement weather.

Rain came down most of the afternoon, along with wind gusts, but conditions actually seemed to improve near the end of the qualifying round. Kearney was the top qualifier, followed by Heil and McPhie.

"It's making the middle section pretty fast," Kearney said. "The moisture is falling out of the sky and making the middle section slick. So it's fast, and it's going to make it an exciting event."

Kearney, who finished 22nd in Turin, felt she had made one error in her qualifying run.

"I had a little break in my helicopter on that bottom air," she said. "You know that instant replay (here) is really nice because I was able to analyze my form."

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