Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, Kaitlyn Farrington, Arielle Gold look to reclaim halfpipe gold for U.S. in Sochi
After failing to win a gold medal in women’s halfpipe four years ago for the first time since 1998, the U.S. team will arrive in Sochi with a couple familiar faces – and several new ones – looking to avenge the defeat from Vancouver.
The last two Winter Olympics have featured the same four girls on the U.S. halfpipe team – 2002 gold medalist and 2010 bronze medalist Kelly Clark, 2006 gold medalist and 2010 silver medalist Hannah Teter, 2006 silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler and Elena Hight.
Following two straight gold medals in women’s halfpipe (one for Clark, one for Teter), the streak of American dominance came to an end in 2010 when Torah Bright of Australia put down the winning run. Both Clark and Teter were present on the podium as Bright received her gold medal.
Clark (left) and Teter (right) both watched Bright (middle) receive the gold medal from their respective spots on the podium in 2010. (Photo: USA Today Sports)
This season, all four girls were in contention once again and appeared to have the inside track on making it to Sochi. Clark did her part, quickly qualifying for her fourth straight Olympic appearance, but plans changed once Kaitlyn Farrington and Arielle Gold charged up the leaderboard and claimed the final two automatic bids.
Teter, Bleiler and Hight were left vying for one final discretionary spot.
Ultimately the final nomination went to Teter. After a slow start to the season, she had turned it on late, reaching the podium in each of the final three halfpipe qualifiers. That surge earned her the nod over the other Olympic veterans.
With the roster now set, the mission for this year’s U.S. Olympic team is clear – put their country back on top of the podium.
Kelly Clark is the eldest veteran of this year’s squad. The 2002 gold medalist, she’ll arrive at Sochi for her fourth Olympics and represents the U.S.’s top hope for a win.
Embedded video_content_type: Kelly Clark's Olympic progression
Although she’s one of the older competitors in the field nowadays, Clark seems to be peaking at the right time. “I never dreamed I would be in this position," she said. "I’m currently 30 years old and at the height of my career. Stereotypically, it’s a young person sport. But the last few years of my career, since Vancouver, I’ve had the three most successful years of my career, the most injury free, the most enjoyable. So my experience is paying off.”
The only other member of the team with Olympic experience, Hannah Teter has two medals to her credit – one for each year she’s participated – including a gold from Torino in 2006.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Model Olympian: Hannah Teter
The experience of Clark and Teter is in contrast to Farrington and Gold, both of whom will be making their Olympic debuts in Sochi.
Farrington, 24, holds the distinction of being the only snowboarder besides Bright to beat Clark in a contest this year. Gold, 17, is the youngest member of the team. Both of them have benefitted from being able to look up to their teammates for guidance, and their teammates have been more than happy to help along the way.
“It’s an individual sport, [but] we genuinely do care about one another,” Clark noted. “There’s a balance [in] that we choose to pursue friendships even when it can be competitive, but that speaks to the nature of the sport, which makes it unique.”
Gold echoed those sentiments. “We all have a good relationship with each other,” she said. "Over the summer, I was traveling with them a lot and have been competing with them over the past few years. They’ve all helped me get into the sport and get to know everyone. [I] definitely consider them mentors of sorts.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Model Olympian: Arielle Gold
The girls certainly don’t like to keep secrets from one another when it comes to their training. Instead, they all work together to draw inspiration from one another.
“I don’t think anyone tries to keep secrets about [the tricks they’re working on],” Farrington said. “I think watching somebody do something inspires [me]. If you’ve never done that trick, you want to do it or make yours better because [you think], ‘Wow, that was awesome. I wish mine was like that.’”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Model Olympian: Kaitlyn Farrington
“There isn’t a lot of team competitiveness,” Clark said. “I’m my hardest critic. I’m trying to outdo myself. We’re all internally motivated, and we’re not looking to each other to see what runs we want to do. We’re setting goals and pursuing them and looking around, being inspired along the way.”
All four of the U.S. veterans – Bleiler and Hight included – have also given the younger girls plenty of advice to prepare them for their upcoming Olympic experience.
“The biggest thing I learned is to not get too wrapped up with the contests or the photo shoots,” Gold said. “There are a lot of stressful situations that we’re put into every day, and they’ve helped me to handle those situations and not focus on every individual result, but the overall outcome and just having fun.”
“I feel what I learned from those four girls is to live each contest as just another contest,” said Farrington. “You don’t want the stress going into it, so you live it day by day.”
The U.S. has never swept the podium in women’s halfpipe. It’s a daunting task for sure, but the U.S. continually fields the deepest and most talented roster in the world, making it a possibility this year. It all comes back to 2010 gold medalist Torah Bright though, who has qualified for the Australian snowboarding team in three separate disciplines - halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboard cross.
The highest expectations are upon Kelly Clark this year. The two best riders in women’s halfpipe right now, Clark and Bright have only faced off once so far this year – at the iON Mountain Championships in Breckenridge – with Bright taking the victory. Bolstered by her ability to consistently land a 1080 in her runs, Clark has been dominant in most other events she's competed in this year though, making the showdown in Sochi between the two a virtual toss-up right now. Clark has also been working on adding a second 1080 variation into her run - something that would be unprecedented in women's halfpipe.
The good news for the U.S.: Clark is ready for the challenge.
“I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I told you I wasn’t going there with the hopes to chase down the top spot on the podium,” Clark said. “For me the Olympics isn’t something I want to look back on and wonder if I had what it took to win. This journey started three and a half years ago.”
Whether or not her journey will conclude on the top step of the podium in February remains to be seen, but with four talented girls on the team, Americans can take pride in knowing that they'll be well-represented in Sochi.
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