Who is Kelly Clark?
Name: Kelly Clark
Country: United States
2016/17 World Snowboard Tour ranking: 2nd
- 2002 Olympic halfpipe gold medalist
- 2-time Olympic halfpipe bronze medalist (2010, 2014)
- 7-time X Games halfpipe gold medalist
- 8-time Burton U.S. Open halfpipe champion
- 5-time World Snowboard Tour season champion
Clark has competed in halfpipe at every Winter Olympics since 2002. In four appearances, she has three medals and has not finished lower than fourth place. Although she hasn't won gold since her debut in 2002, Clark is coming off back-to-back bronze medals in 2010 and 2014.
Though she has ceded her former status as the perennial favorite in this event to Chloe Kim, Clark remains a strong medal contender at the age of 34. She will first need to lock up a spot on the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team but is a reasonable bet to do so.
At the age of 18, Clark's victory at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games made her the youngest American snowboarder to win an Olympic medal. That record still stands, although Chloe Kim (17 years old) has a good chance to break it in PyeongChang. But the 34-year-old Clark could set a new age-related record: A medal in PyeongChang could potentially make her the oldest American, as well as the oldest female from any country, to earn a medal in snowboarding.
With three total medals, Clark is also the most decorated Olympic snowboarder ever. If she earns another medal in PyeongChang, she would retain that title for at least another four years. But even if she finishes off the podium, Clark would at the very least remained tied for the sport's all-time medal lead, if not still hold it outright. If she ends up winning, she could potentially become the first female snowboarder to earn two gold medals as well.
Furthermore, Clark holds the honor of being the only woman to compete in halfpipe at four different Olympics. A fifth time in PyeongChang would extend her record.
For years, Clark has stood apart from most of the field because of the amplitude in her runs. She's also one of the only riders who can do a 1080, and she is able to land the trick so consistently that it has become a staple of her runs.
Clark was on skis when she was 2, but she started snowboarding at age 8 while her family was living in West Dover, Vermont. The town is home to Mount Snow, so she began training at the resort's academy just a few years later. In 1998, she recorded the snowboarding competition from the Nagano Olympics on a VHS tape and watched it after school. According to Clark, it was a "defining moment" for her, as that was when she decided she wanted to dedicate herself to the sport. But in 2001, her parents made a deal with her: Clark would have one more year to prove herself and show them that she could successfully have a career in snowboarding; otherwise, she would have to give up the dream and go to college. That coming year ended with Clark making the U.S. Olympic team and then winning the gold medal in Salt Lake City.
At the 2011 X Games, Clark became the first woman to land a 1080 in a halfpipe run. That moment was a long time in the making, as she and others had been working on the trick for years. From then on, the 1080 became a staple of her runs, and she dominated women's halfpipe for several years to come because of it.
Clark sustained the first major injury of her career in February 2016: a torn hamstring and a torn labrum in her hip. The recovery process from the surgery took several months, but the first month was particularly brutal, as she had very limited mobility and was basically confined to her bed. "My feet had to be tied together and I couldn’t sit at 90 degrees," she told Burton Snowboards. When she got back on snow later that year, she was initially concerned that she wouldn't remember how to snowboard — or even how to get off the chairlift. But within a few months, she was back to winning contests again.
2016/17 season recap
After spending seven months recovering from her hip surgery, Clark returned in time for the contest season. She opened the season by finishing fourth at the Laax Open and X Games, then won her next two events: the Mammoth Grand Prix and the PyeongChang Olympic test event. Clark also competed at the Burton U.S. Open but was forced to pull out of the final after crashing during practice. She finished the year ranked No. 2 behind Chloe Kim in the World Snowboard Tour's halfpipe standings.
Off the snow
As her competitive career starts to wind down, Clark has been determined to find ways to give back to her sport and help the next generation of riders. To that end, she launched the Kelly Clark Foundation in 2010. Through her foundation, Clark provides support in the form of scholarships to talented young snowboarders in need of financial assistance as they pursue careers in the sport. One such beneficiary of the program was Maddie Mastro, a current U.S. Olympic hopeful for 2018.
"Kelly's influence on the sport has just been amazing. She's pushed the woman's halfpipe riding to another level with her . And she just keeps getting better and better." — U.S. snowboarder Maddie Mastro on Kelly Clark
"I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be trying to make my fifth Olympic team. It's been an absolute privilege to represent the U.S. and go to the last four Games. Every Games for me has really been kind of a case-by-case adventure. I didn't know I would still be so motivated after all these years." — Kelly Clark on the possibility of competing at her fifth Olympics