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Kearney has changed, but desire to win still there

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 3, 2014 at 10:11 am •  Published: February 3, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Hannah Kearney answered a question about her readiness to defend the Olympic women's moguls gold medal with a question of her own.

"Have you seen my thighs?"

And no, she wasn't kidding.

The U.S. freestyle skiing star is simply built for her sport, built to fight for the top spot on the Olympic podium, the perch that she occupied four years ago and the one she plans to be in again on Saturday when the women's moguls medals are awarded at the Sochi Games.

As the reigning Olympic and world champion, Kearney is the obvious favorite.

"I know that everyone wants to beat me even more and I know there's no place to go from the top but to fall or to stay there," Kearney said. "It's easier to be the underdog. There's like scientific research about that. So I use that as motivation. 'OK, I'm not the underdog.' If you're wearing the No. 1 bib and you're the Olympic gold medalist, no matter what happens on that day you're never going to be the underdog, so it changes your mentality a little bit."

Since her Olympic debut eight years ago, more than her mentality has changed.

Physically, Kearney barely recognizes the person she was in 2006, hence the quip about if anyone has noticed the aforementioned thighs. She's become one of the faces of her sport, plus has seen her goals evolve and get reset on occasion as her list of accomplishments grows.

One other method of illustrating how much has changed in her life since 2006? Back then, hard as it might seem to believe nowadays, Kearney didn't even own a cell phone.

"Eight years is a very significant portion of my life," said Kearney, 27. "So of course, I've changed a lot. You're bound to grow up in that time traveling the world and competing."

What hasn't changed is her desire to win, especially now.

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