Four-time Olympian Kelly Clark on life, Sochi and snowboarding
With more than 60 career wins, including four Olympic appearances — in which she came home with two bronze medals and a gold — seven Burton U.S. Open titles, five U.S. Grand Prix overall tour championships and nine X Games gold medals, U.S. team snowboarder Kelly Clark is the most decorated athlete in snowboarding history.
For the last 12 years, it seemed, all she did was win. And at age 31 — “thirty fun,” in her words — coming off a bronze-medal performance at the Sochi Olympics and starting the season with another win at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper, she shows no signs of slowing down headed into Saturday’s women’s halfpipe finals.
But for the soft-spoken Clark, it’s not about the wins. It’s more about advancing the sport and leaving an impression that’s bigger than individual accolades. That’s why in 2010 she formed the Kelly Clark Foundation, which to date has raised more than $60,000 for scholarships to help students overcome financial barriers and empower them through snowboarding.
The Summit Daily sat down with Clark last week to talk about her career, her foundation, Sochi and where snowboarding is going.
Last year headed into the Olympic qualifiers you said you felt like you were riding at the highest level of your career. Another Olympic appearance and another medal certainly showed that. Where are you heading into this season?
I think I still have a lot of potential. I think that’s what keeps me motivated. Snowboarding is an amazing sport. Because no matter how good you are, you’re never going to be the best. It’s always changing; you have to change with it. There isn’t a day that I go out that I’m not challenged. I think that’s part of the excitement for me. That’s part of the challenge for me. It’s amazing to be part of a sport that grows and progresses.
Coming off of an Olympic season I was kind of pleasantly surprised to find that I was really motivated and that the Olympics weren’t a destination for me. I wasn’t using external things to motivate me.
It’s been 12 years since your first Olympic appearance, and you have more awards than we can count. What do you have left to prove?
I never have anything to prove. That’s never a good way to approach competing. In my personal opinion, that’s never proved to be successful.
I snowboard because I love it. I snowboard to push myself and to push the sport and show people what’s possible to do on a snowboard.
To be quite honest I don’t know if I’ve hit my full potential yet. And that’s why I’m still here.
What keeps snowboarding fresh for you?
I like being challenged. It’s exciting, it’s fun and I love that.
I love how difficult it is. It’s a delicate puzzle that isn’t without its daily challenges and I love that. I love that there’s no formula.
I have to bring my A-game and see what I build. There’s nothing like contests that reveal what you’ve really built and what you’re made of.
Tell us a little about your approach to contests. You’ve been in first place going into your final run as last to drop and instead of a victory lap you’ve outscored yourself.
You know me, I’m 100 percent all of the time. I only have one speed… I have a run that I want to do and that’s pretty much my approach. That’s my approach to every contest.
So it’s a set first trick, second trick, third trick?
Oh, yeah. Snowboarding looks like we’re risk takers. We’re calculated risk takers. We know exactly what every trick is supposed to be.
Is everyone like that?
No. I don’t think everybody is like that. But I’m like that. It’s made it enjoyable to me. I never want to let my circumstances make decisions for me. I never want to look to my competition or to my environment.
That approach worked in Sochi. Looking back, how tough was that competition?
It was very challenging. It was one of the most challenging halfpipes I’ve ever ridden. I fell all five runs in practice for the finals. I couldn’t get my 10 (her 1080 trick) to work anywhere. I moved it four times. So I’m going into the finals with five falls under my belt and only to fall first round of the finals again.
I fell six runs in a row to land my seventh for an Olympic medal. The only run I landed all night, last person to go of the entire contest. That was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It wasn’t my best snowboarding but it was perhaps one of my greatest accomplishments.
You joked that you started snowboarding before it was cool. There was no such thing as the X Games and it wasn’t an Olympic sport. How have you seen the sport grow, especially as it relates to women?
When I first started, the amount of women participation in snowboarding was much less than it is today. I was one girl in a pack of guys at my mountain; now you see 10 girls riding together. I think the companies and the events and the athletes have really taken it seriously to continue to make snowboarding inviting and approachable. It’s grown dramatically since I’ve started.
Whether it’s the Olympics , X Games or snowboarding as a whole, why do you think it’s grown like it has?
It’s really relatable. It’s something that, if everybody is not out there bobsledding with their families on the weekends, they’re probably out skiing and snowboarding. And if they’re not hitting the 70-foot jumps, they’re hitting the 10-foot jumps.
It’s something that people get to be a part of. There’s an industry and a culture behind that that is inclusive. That’s what I love about our sport. If you go outside and play catch with your dad, you don’t call yourself a baseball player. But if you go out and go snowboarding with your friends, you are a snowboarder. I think that’s why it’s been so successful.
Through your snowboarding and your foundation you’ve been a part of that growth. Why has that been so important to you?
It’s something near and dear to my heart. I want to make sure the sport of snowboarding is better because I was a part of it. I’m going to do that through competing and tricks and being a good role model and inspiring women and making snowboarding approachable.
What’s the goal of your foundation?
We want to help youth be successful through snowboarding by creating access.
There’s things you can gain through sport that will ultimately give you life experience. All one needs to be great is opportunity.
It’s one thing to raise money, but it’s another when I see people’s lives who I impact. For me it’s really important to build something that’s going to outlast my ability to compete. I want to make sure the sport of snowboarding was better because I was a part of it.
What’s next? Will we see you at the Olympics in Korea in 2018?
I’m healthy and motivated. I’ll snowboard until I find something more worthy of my life’s investment. Until that happens I’ll continue to invest it here.
I haven’t hit my potential yet. And so I’m going to continue to work on my snowboarding and try to be a better snowboarder. I wouldn’t count me out of the picture or Korea by any means.
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