SOCHI, Russia--Hannah Kearney's voice was breaking and there was no doubt her heart was doing the same when she struggled to keep her composure in the interview room.
One volunteer scurried to get Kearney a bottle of water and a tissue to blot her tears. What the moguls specialist wanted most to happen, however, wasn't to be on Saturday.
"Right now, I would like very much to ski again," Kearney said. "I think instead I will try my absolute best to let it go. I think it will help my happiness levels moving forward."
The saddest bronze medalist in recent Olympic memory was distraught over a mistake in the medal round, which put her on the podium behind two Canadian sisters, gold medalist Justine Dufour-Lapointe and silver medalist Chloe Dufour-Lapointe.
"It just totally rocks," said 19-year-old Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the youngest of the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters competing on the final day of women's moguls competition.
"I really gave it my all. I felt the pressure. But I just tried to put that away and said, 'You know what? I'm going to roar and people will see me and remember who the real Justine is.'"
And so, Kearney lost the rematch with Canada.
Four years ago, the gripping finale under adverse conditions at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver had come down to Kearney versus Jenn Heil, the home-country favorite. Kearney upset Heil in the moguls event to win gold.
This time, it was Hannah and the sisters.
The Super Final at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park featured six skiers, and it all came down to one run. Eliza Outtrim, the other U.S. freestyler in the Super Final, finished sixth. Kearney looked uneven and uncomfortable in the first elimination round and better in the second, but she made a costly mistake high up on the course in the third.
Outtrim said the bumps at the top of the course were "firm and big."
"They were throwing people a little today," she said. "Hannah is going much bigger on the top air than most of the other girls, so when she comes out of that top air, she hits that first bump and, unfortunately, she was just a little messy on it. But I still think she skied great."
Said Kearney: "When you are competing, you have so much adrenaline that I didn't realize the mistake was that bad. I felt like I got off balance, but I'm strong and I pulled it back together with all of my might.
"I showed some mental strength by cleaning up the rest of my run.... It could have been worse. I'll have to treat this bronze medal as a reward for fighting and not perfection."
This was not the way the three-time Olympian planned to leave the stage.
"You don't prepare for this moment," Kearney said. "You prepare for success. I think I knew if I didn't win gold, I was going to be very disappointed because it probably meant I did something incorrectly. I didn't ski the best run of my life, which was exactly what I was planning on doing."
For Canada, it was the first gold medal of these Olympics. The United States won two medals on Saturday: snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg's gold in slopestyle and Kearney's bronze.
There was a third Dufour-Lapointe sister in the field, Maxime, who was eliminated in the second run on Saturday night. Heather McPhie, another Olympic veteran who was the third American competing, did not make it out of the final 16.
Outtrim lamented her showing in the Super Final.
"That last run I had, I hadn't skied like that all week," she said. "I think it was a little bit of bad luck. I haven't been that sloppy all week, but again, the course is very unforgiving. If you're on, it's good. If you're a little bit off, it's hard to get back."
(c)2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services