WILMINGTON - As the defending women's Olympic moguls champion and the owner of a previous winning streak that stretched to 16 races, Hannah Kearney isn't used to coming in second plac - or third place for that matter.
But on Wednesday at Whiteface Mountain, the skier from Norwich, Vt. - who lives in Lake Placid while training - did have to settle for a bronze-medal finish in the next-to-last World Cup moguls event before the Sochi Winter Olympics.
In an event that featured two qualification rounds to whittle down the field to a super-final round of the top six competitors, one little slip-up in Kearney's last run cost her another possible victory. Instead, it went to Canada's Justine Dufour-LaPointe as that nation's freestyle team swept the golds in the race, with Alex Bilodeau winning in the men's competition.
American Patrick Deneen takes flight off the second of two jumps during the first qualifying round of Wednesday’s World Cup moguls race at Whiteface Mountain. He won the silver medal.
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
Despite not claiming a victory, United States skiers did find success as they grabbed the second through fourth positions in both the men's and women's events.
For just a brief moment after soaring off the first of two jumps, Kearney slipped slightly in the moguls section of the course but got back on track to finish third. Her teammate Heidi Kloser skied to the silver.
"The podium is fairly meaningless to me," Kearney said. "However, there are positives about today. The way I skied on my second run is closer to what I want to achieve. I was in second place going into that run, and I pushed and came out on top, but it's only the final one that counts. Unfortunately my feet came out from under me and I blew out."
Whereas Kearney didn't get the result she wanted, Dufour-LaPointe was elated with her first-place finish. She barely survived the first qualifier after placing 14th among the field of 16 skiers who moved on to the second round.
"Today was really awesome because I didn't start off very well," said Dufour-LaPointe, who will be a first-time Olympian when she competes in next month's Sochi games. "I went from 14 in qualifying, and that was big. I needed to find the lion and tiger in me, and I did. I know there will be lots of pressure in the Olympics, and I want to embrace that pressure and ski the best I can."
Sophia Schwartz of the U.S. finished fourth, Yulia Galysheva of Kazakhstan placed fifth and American Eliza Outtrim was sixth.
Bilodeau, who won the men's gold at the last Olympics and plans to retire after this year's Winter Games, didn't have a perfect day at Whiteface, but he performed well enough to notch another victory. He was joined by two Americans on the podium, with Patrick Deneen finishing runner-up and Bradley Wilson taking third.
"I skied pretty well, but I made some mistakes in the super-final," said Bilodeau, who took over the World Cup points leader's yellow bib following his triumph. "My last run of the day was my worst, but I am happy."
Deneen, who was in position to win a medal four years ago at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, said he is skiing well heading into Sochi. On Wednesday, the native of Snoqualmie Pass, Wash. locked up a trip to Russia with his second-place finish.
"It was 99 percent before today, and it's 100 percent today," Deneen said of making the Olympic team. "I feel really good with where I'm at with my skiing. I kept a lot of DD (degree of difficulty) in my back pocket today and still came out with the silver, and that feels good. I am hoping to put all the pieces in place for a winning run in the Olympics."
Deneen's other podium finish this season was a bronze in Calgary, Canada.
Bradley Wilson finished third, one position in front of his older brother Bryon, who won the bronze medal at the Vancouver Olympics.
Russia's Alexandr Smyshlyaev placed fifth, and Mikael Kingsbury of Canada finished sixth.
The final World Cup moguls event before the Olympics will be Saturday in Val St. Come, Quebec.
Although Kearney doesn't plan on retiring from World Cup racing, she said February will mark her final appearance at an Olympic competition.
"I've never been the returning or defending Olympic champion," Kearney said. "I am hoping to ski my absolute best when it counts. Sochi will be my very last Olympics, so I'll soak up every minute of it."