When Hannah Kearney stood on the pedestal to receive her gold medal for freestyle skiing, the moment was overpowering.
"It was shockingly emotional," Kearney, 23, told "Good Morning America" today.
"I guess I didn't have that expectation to have that many people show up. ... It was a really an emotional moment which I think I had expected, knowing that you're going to get the medal around your neck. But when it actually happens, it exceeded the expectations."
But more than the cheering crowd and becoming the United States' first gold medal winner at these Winter Olympics, Kearney said, the Saturday victory was special because it was a moment of redemption for her.
The Vermont native had a long journey to her first-place finish. She was the defending world champion when she competed in the Turin Olympics four years ago, but she stumbled on her qualifying run and finished 22nd.
"I had a terrible experience," she said today. "I thought I had disappointed my country, myself. This was the exact opposite."
Kearney's win added to the United States' lead in the medal count with six: her gold along with two silver and three bonze.
Germany is in second place with four medals, followed by France with three. Of their three medals, France has won two gold.
Despite the slushy, windy conditions Saturday, Kearney said she was determined to win gold 13 days before her 24th birthday.
Before the competition started, Kearney's trainer gave her a card to prove she was ready. She had completed 14,000 ski jumps, 126 hours on a bicycle, 450 training sessions, 1,000 jumps on water ramps to perfect her form, 470 pull-ups and 1,400 squats, according to the card.
"You're ready," the card said. "Have fun. Let it rip."
Despite hearing the crowd roar for one of her competitor's runs, Kearney said, she was "calm, confident and excited" at the starting gate.
"I used the energy of the crowd and the positive vibes I was feeling," she said.
After performing a back flip on her first jump, followed by a 360-degree spin in midair, Kearney flew down the moguls in 27.86 seconds, according to the Associated Press.
When she landed the second jump, Kearney said, she knew "it was a done deal at that point."
Talking with "Good Morning America" from Vancouver, Kearney said the studio crowd's cheering was "as good as being on American soil."