Skier after top skier went tumbling through the moguls, and the often predictable Olympic trials suddenly got suspenseful.

Defending world champion Patrick Deneen put an end to that drama Wednesday with a smooth run down the mountain. It wrapped up his spot on the U.S. freestyle Olympic team and brought a crushing end to an Olympic dream for 21-year-old up-and-comer Jeremy Cota.

On the women's side, top-ranked Hannah Kearney performed as expected to edge out Emiko Torito and earn a trip to her second Olympics.

Given their previous successes, both Deneen and Kearney could have assumed they'd make the Olympic team eventually. But they are now the only ones who know for sure. Everyone else has to perform in World Cup events and wait until the rest of the team is announced in late January.

"This is the only golden ticket, and to have it means the world to me," Kearney said. "It's going to make the rest of year unstressful, and to go into the Olympics less stressed will give me an advantage."

Though there is a certain amount of unpredictability in a sport that sends skiers flying through bumps and off ramps at 20 mph, it's never hard to identify the top four or five contenders in any event.

Which was why Cota was as shocked as anyone to be standing on the bottom, in the lead, with Deneen the only skier left. Two favorites, Bryon Wilson and Nate Roberts, had tumbled on their runs, and Sho Kashima and Michael Morse ran into a couple bobbles on a snowy day in Steamboat.

"Oh, absolutely not," Cota conceded when asked if he ever thought he'd find himself that close to making the Olympic team. "I know I'm kind of a longshot."

Deneen ended Cota's hope with a pair of solid jumps - a back layout on top and a twisting 720-degree spin on the bottom - with nice landings that earned him a score of 26.68, which was .57 better than Cota.

Coming off an impressive 2009, he couldn't crack the top 20 in the first two events of this season. Maybe it was the pressure. He's from Cle Elum, Wash., which is only a three-hour drive from Vancouver.

"It was a rough go earlier in the season, so it's nice to lay down the run and get rewarded for it by the judges," said Deneen, who turns 22 on Christmas Day.

Kearney also got rewarded, and it's easy to see why. Scores are made up of four factors: each of the two jumps, the speed down the mountain and the form of the skiers through the moguls.