Medal, then ring on Hardaway's list

Soon-to-be-wed skier has bumps ahead of her

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 09, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - This year, Hannah Hardaway is going for the gold twice.

Not only is the New Hampshire native America's best shot for a first place in freestyle moguls skiing, she's also planning on getting married after the Winter Games to teammate Brian Currutt.

Little stands between Hardaway and the altar, but she faces two obstacles on the way to the top step on the podium: Norway's Kari Traa and her U.S. teammates.

Hardaway placed third on the World Cup circuit last year and second this season. And she won the 2001 World Cup event at Deer Valley Mountain Resort - the same venue she'll tackle tomorrow.

The 28-year-old Traa won the 2001 World Cup and leads in the standings this season. She won the bronze medal in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

Jillian Vogtli, 28, made the U.S. team last month with a third-place finish in World Cup competition in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Four-time Olympian Ann Battelle and Shannon Bahrke, ranked third on the World Cup circuit, round out the American team.

"We have a strong team," Hardaway said. "Any one of us can lay down a good run and reach the podium. [Traa's] not unbeatable."

Moguls skiing came to the Olympics in 1992. The sport requires skiers to negotiate four-foot-high snow bumps as fast as they can and include two acrobatic jumps in the program.

Jumps have names such as Daffy, Twister, Iron Cross and Helicopter, which requires an airborne skier to complete one full revolution before landing. Jumps are done in combinations.

Time counts for 25 percent of the score, the quality of the turns is 50 percent and the degree of difficulty in the jumps and their quality make up the final 25 percent. There are seven judges, two watching the jumps and seven on the turns.

Hardaway took up freestyle skiing at the age of 11, when she joined the training program at Vermont's Killington Resort.

She was an All-State softball and volleyball player and won the junior moguls championship five times.

The 23-year-old, who loves to tell people that she grew up without television in her home near Lake Winnipesaukee, is finishing up a business and marketing degree at Cornell University.

The American women say the Deer Valley course works to their advantage in two ways.

First, there's the 20,000 partisan fans expected to line the course.

"I think that everyone who I've ever met in my life is going to be here," said Battelle, 34.

Then, there's the run itself, steep and fast. It will take the women about 32 seconds to complete a run.

"This is a long course; a long course for [Traa]. [On a long course] she has never done that well," Battelle said.

Bahrke, 21, has twice finished fourth in World Cup competitions at Deer Valley.

Hardaway and Battelle say women's moguls competition has improved dramatically over the past three years.

"All of the girls have been pushing themselves and each other," Hardaway said. "Now, we're doing helicopters and triples, maybe two triples, instead of singles and doubles. We've definitely improved in the air, in speed and in scores."

Said Battelle: "This year in particular, the level of skill has gone through the roof. The guys used to beat us by six seconds; now it's just three or four.

"I imagine that after an Olympics like these, girls will be encouraged," she says. "It's cool to watch. It's even cooler to do."

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