Park Record columnist
After the second of three runs at Winter X Games Saturday, Olympic champion Kelly Clark waded through the gauntlet of a crowd nearly 50,000 strong to get back up to the top of the pipe. She was uncharacteristically in second place, thanks to a historic first run by U.S. Snowboarding teammate Elena Hight.
"It's all good," she said smiling. "I've got one more run left."
Clark was right she took gold.
In a sport measured as much by progression of tricks as medals, Kelly Clark faced an onslaught of challenges that evening in seeking a three-peat at Winter X. The queen of the halfpipe for over a decade, Clark won Olympic gold in Park City, suffered heartbreak in Torino, finishing fourth, and came back in Vancouver to win bronze.
Along the way, Clark was known as much amongst her peers as the innovator for women's snowboarding. It was Kelly who debuted the new tricks, pushing her sport to levels it had never seen. The first woman to throw a 1080 two years ago, Clark used that edge to win 16 straight in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
After winning the season finale Sprint U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain last spring, Hight started looking for more of an edge herself. In May, she finally cracked the code on her double backside alley-oop rodeo a trick so technically demanding that even those few who had tried it in training never risked putting it into a comp. Simply put, girls just didn't do doubles. 'But why not?' thought Hight.
In the book of tricks, it goes like this: A single rodeo is a 540 taking off forward, landing forward, rotating up the halfpipe while simultaneously traveling down the pipe. In a double backside alley-oop rodeo you take off forward and land forward with a 900-degree rotation.
As she stood at the top of the superpipe under the glare of floodlights, Elena debated whether to throw it on her first attempt or put a safety run into the books. But she came to Aspen to throw the trick. So she did. And she landed it, sending the crowd in Aspen and millions watching on TV into a rage.
Clark didn't have anything new up her sleeve. But she still had an arsenal of tricks and the technical skills and true grit to get it done when it counted. Run three was rock solid as Clark launched her trademark 1080 to start followed by a cab 720, frontside 900 and backside 540 showing why she is consistently best in the world.
Gold medal in hand, Clark talked about how she relished the pressure facing her on the final run. Then she talked about Elena's double. "What Elena did for the sport was incredible tonight. I might need to go back to the drawing board a bit. A few years ago, learning a 1080 was a huge step and I am really looking forward to the future."
"Doubles are the way our sport is going," said Hight. "I've been thinking about this since last May. And this is what I came here to do!"
Gold for Clark history for Hight!