Freestyle skier Hannah Kearney conquers injuries, eyes Olympic history

The list is painfully long: A torn knee ligament. A major concussion. A lacerated liver. Broken ribs. A punctured lung.

Freestyle skier Hannah Kearney has endured all these injuries and more – but she keeps coming back stronger than ever. Not long after recovering from ACL surgery in 2007, she won the first moguls World Cup title of her career and ultimately the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics. So it should come as no surprise that after breaking two ribs and bruising her liver in a training crash in October 2012, she has returned to the top of the moguls mountain.

 Kearney claimed the world championship title last year and just wrapped up a dominating World Cup circuit – winning six of 10 events. After rehabbing from her latest injuries, she told CBS News she feels "fantastic" thanks to her focus on diet and training.

"I want to stand in that start gate and have full confidence that I'm going to lay down a good run," Kearney said, "and for me that comes from knowing that I did exactly 1,022 jumps into a pool this summer to practice."

Moguls, which gained medal status in 1992, can certainly take a toll on the body. The freestyle specialty showcases speed and power as skiers navigate jarring bumps, hairpin turns and big jumps.  Competitors are judged on their precision – and time – down the course.

 In Russia, the 27-year-old from Vermont will attempt to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals. The down-to-earth athlete who's known for her trademark pigtails sticking out of her helmet says she won't be unveiling any new tricks in Russia but instead focusing on consistency.

"I'm going for quality over particularly high difficulty in my air maneuvers," said Kearney, who's also a spokesperson for Chobani Greek Yogurt, one of this year's major U.S. Olympic sponsors.

With the injuries behind her, Kearney says she has the "test results to prove I've never been stronger" and she's peaking at the right time. But the woman who has dominated her sport for several years still thinks there is room for improvement as she hits the Sochi slopes.

"I truly believe I can become a better moguls skier," Kearney said. "My plan in Sochi is to ski the three or four best mogul runs of my life."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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