Snowboarder Kelly Clark earns fourth trip to Olympics with Grand Prix win |

Snowboarder Kelly Clark earns fourth trip to Olympics with Grand Prix win

From left, Gretchen Bleiler, Kelly Clark and Arielle Gold, all of the United States, stand on the podium after competing in the U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe snowboarding finals, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, in Frisco, Colo. Clark took first place in the event, followed by Gold and Bleiler. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Two-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark stood at the top of the halfpipe as last to drop in the final round of the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain Saturday night. Already owning the lead after a first round 95, she had no one to beat but herself. Clark could have just taken a victory slide down the pipe, but that just wouldn’t have been her style.

“I’ve never really wanted to have a contest be a motivator for me,” she said after her final run. “At the end of the day I don’t want to be letting contests determine what kind of snowboarding runs I do. It was more important for me to walk away and do the run I really wanted to do.”

So instead she threw down a final run that earned her a near perfect score, 98, in part due to a near flawless frontside 1080. It was a performance made all the more impressive by how Clark started her day.

“I got some kind of bug this morning, and I was literally on the couch till 5:30 p.m. and my practice was kind of a nightmare.”

If that’s what the 30-year-old three-time Olympian can do at less than 100 percent, the rest of the field might be in trouble when the winter games get underway in Sochi, Russia in February.

With the win Saturday night — along with a second place finish at Dew Tour last week behind Australia’s Torah Bright — Clark locked up a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

“Tonight I made my fourth Olympic team, it’s an absolute privilege,” the soft-spoken Clark said, smiling.

But she gave no indication of slowing down and relaxing leading up to the games.

“Right now I get to shift gears and simply work on my snowboarding. I’m going to continue to do all of the events, but I’m just going to be working on my snowboarding so it simplifies things for me a bit.”

She was joined on the podium by two Coloradoans, Steamboat’s Arielle Gold, who took second, and fellow Olympic medalist Gretchen Bleiler of Aspen.

“I feel amazing,” Bleiler said after. “To be on the podium tonight is more than I could ever hoped for, it means a lot. The U.S. Olympic qualifiers are really intense. Getting on the podium is a huge step in the right direction.”

Bleiler will need to build off of the third-place finish in the remaining qualifiers if she hopes to return to the Olympics.

“I still have my work cut out for me,” she said.

While Olympic veterans took two of the top women’s spots, the story on the men’s side was more of a youth movements. Completing the American podium sweep in both men’s and women’s superpipe, none of the three top men can claim birthdays prior to 1990.

For the Golds, it was a family affair as Arielle’s brother Taylor took top honors, followed by Greg Bretz, and Ben Ferguson.

“I’m stoked for him,” she said of her brother’s win.“We do everything together. We work out together in the offseason. We ride together almost all the time. It’s definitely cool seeing him get this result just because I know firsthand how much hard work he’s put into it.”

Both Bretz and Gold made podium at Dew Tour and are well on their way to Olympic contention. Bretz beat out Shaun White for the top spot at Dew Tour. Gold took third behind White. White will continue to be a contender with three qualifiers remaining. He opted out of competition this week to rest his ankle — hurt at Dew Tour — and focus on slopestyle. White — already a two-time gold medalist— hopes to compete in both halfpipe and slopestyle in Sochi. He took third in slopestyle Sunday and was the top American finisher, putting him in a spot to make his goal a reality.

It was a tough superpipe final for White’s former Olympic teammates. Scotty Lago took 10th, and a clearly upset Louie Vito finished 12th. Vito was on his way to a potentially winning run when he fell on his final jump.

The road to Sochi will return to Colorado Jan. 8-12. The next U.S. qualifiers, originally scheduled for Northstar in California, has been moved to Breckenridge because of snow conditions.

Note: Breckenridge resident and Olympic hopeful Eric Willett cracked a vertebrae in Grand Prix slopestyle qualifier practice Friday and had to withdraw from competition. Willet was in attendance at Sundays finals and in good spirits. He told the Daily the injury is expected to take eight weeks to heal, putting him out of the running for the Olympic team.

Saturday’s Summit Daily profile on Kelly Clark can be read by clicking on this hyperlink.

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