Women's Olympic freestyle ski competition kicked off in Sochi, Russia on Feb. 6 as reigning moguls gold medalist Hannah Kearney posted the top qualifying score ahead of Canada's Dufour-Lapointe sisters, Maxime, Chloe, and Justine.
Ten women booked a spot in the Feb. 8 finals, but those who struggled will have another opportunity to reach the podium with a strong performance in the second round of qualifying this weekend.
Women's moguls action will continue after the opening ceremony.
With moguls set to conclude this weekend, let's take a closer look at the top contenders viewers should be watching for.
|Date||Event||Start Time||TV (U.S.)||TV (U.K.)|
|Feb. 8||Qualification 2||6 p.m. MSK, 9 a.m. ET, 2 p.m. GMT||NBC (8 p.m. ET, tape-delay)||BBC Two|
|Feb. 8||Final 1||10 p.m. MSK, 1 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. GMT||NBC (8 p.m. ET, tape-delay)||BBC Two|
|Feb. 8||Final 2||10:35 p.m. MSK, 1:35 p.m. ET, 6:35 p.m. GMT||NBC (8 p.m. ET, tape-delay)||BBC Two|
|Feb. 8||Final 3||11:10 p.m. MSK, 2:10 p.m. ET, 7:10 p.m. GMT||NBC (8 p.m. ET, tape-delay)||BBC Two|
Hannah Kearney, United States
Anytime you're talking women's ski moguls, you have to mention American favorite Kearney, who proved during her Feb. 6 qualifying run that she's the woman to beat in Sochi this winter.
The 27-year-old won gold in this discipline in Vancouver four years ago and has won the last three World Cup titles in moguls to cement her favorite status.
Given her experience and undeniable ability, it's difficult to imagine her coming away with anything other than gold. However, Kearney will face a stiff challenge in this year's finals format, which will require the athletes to make three consecutive runs, each scheduled within 35 minutes of the other.
Kearney recently talked about the challenges of the new format, and she acknowledged that she and her teammates have the fitness and skill to succeed, per The Los Angeles Times' Lisa Dillman:
It's good for us. I can say quite confidently that we're the most fit, strongest team out there. ... We're as prepared as possible to handle several days of competition in a row. Also, being veterans is helpful because you learn to just go with the flow. ... It's peculiar that the very first time we try a format is on such a grand stage. But I don't think it will have a negative effect.
If there's any competitor out there best suited to overcome this new obstacle it's certainly Kearney, who has the repertoire and calm to deliver.
Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe, Canada
All three Dufour-Lapointe sisters advanced from qualification in Sochi, but in terms of podium potential, the two younger world-champion medalists appear to have the best shot to dethrone Kearney.
Chloe, 22, and Justine, 19, finished second and third respectively during qualifying, posting impressive scores of 22.64 and 22.28.
While Chloe has Olympic experience, having competed in Vancouver in 2010, Justine is making her Olympic debut. That'll certainly be something to watch for as the duo prepares for the finals. Will Chloe's comfort level put her over the top, or can Justine overcome her lack of big-stage experience to earn a podium finish?
The answers to these questions will have to wait until Feb. 8. But considering that the two contenders like to utilize the same arsenal of tricks on the slopes, the experience factor is sure to loom large.
Heather McPhie, United States
While American hopeful Heather McPhie failed to secure a spot in the final on Feb. 6, she was able to advance to the second round of qualifying by finishing 14th with a score of 19.92.
Heather McPhie made the top 16 in 14th place!! 3 of the 4 US women's team members made it to the semi finals. #Sochi— Richie Melby (@richiemelby) February 6, 2014
Although the 29-year-old is viewed as a threat to finish on the podium, it's difficult to imagine her topping fellow Team USA representative Kearney. After all, the two have been battling in various moguls competitions around the world over the past year, with McPhie coming up short on most occasions.
Still, McPhie's Olympic experience could set her apart down the stretch. With multiple World Cup gold medals to her name, she definitely won't be short on confidence moving forward in Sochi.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.