Behind the gold: Changing of the Olympic guard
February 16, 2018
Olympic champion Kelly Clark stood by a fence in the finish area, balaclava pulled up over her face, her head in her hands. A lineup of friends and fellow athletes came by to give her a hug. Few words were exchanged.
Changing of the guard isn't always easy.
For 16 years, Kelly Clark has been the face of women's snowboarding. And she likely will be for years to come — a rich legacy that has spawned a new generation of riders. Tuesday morning at Phoenix Sports Park in Pyeongchang, Clark showed, once again, that she's a gamer. And a class act!
Against a field of powerful women, Clark held her own putting herself into medal position once again. Four years earlier in Sochi, she persevered through crash after crash, finally winning bronze on her final ride. This time, she controlled the show from the start — landing each of her three runs, each successively better.
What she couldn't control were the young women she had mentored.
Four years ago, Chloe Kim's name was second on the Olympic qualifying list. Next to it was an asterik — * ineligible to compete due to age. She was just 13. Now, four years later, she became an Olympic champion in her ancestral homeland.
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Four years ago, Arielle Gold was on that Sochi team. It was a learning experience. Today, she's an Olympic bronze medalist.
Since winning Olympic gold at the age of 18 at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Clark has embodied women's snowboarding. Kim wasn't even 2 years old yet. But along the way, as a precocious 8-year-old, she pulled on Clark's jacket in Mammoth Mountain and asked to share a lift ride. Thus began her friendship.
Over the span of five Olympics, Clark has won gold, bronze and bronze. Twice, now, she has finished fourth. And both times it came at the hands of a teammate and friend.
"It was a bittersweet position to be know that I had to beat Kelly," said Gold. "She's someone I've looked up to ever since I started snowboarding. Over the years I've gotten to know the kind of person she is. She's been a huge support system for me, and I'm grateful to have her here for this experience."
Added Kim: "I've looked up to Kelly for so long — Gretchen, Hannah and others. I was so inspired by them when I was little. They've progressed women's snowboarding. Now we're a part of it and it's quite an honor."
What made Clark especially proud was the fact that she controlled her own destiny.
"So much of the time, the Olympics can be something that you can survive and just make it through," she said. "Today, I was calling the shots. I was in the driver's seat and I enjoyed myself, managed myself well and rode well. I think it's so easy to measure success by winning a medal, but for me this was an extremely successful day in the midst of it."
Still it hurt. As she stood next to Chloe and Arielle at a team celebration, she reflected across one of the most storied careers any Olympian could enjoy.
"I think my Olympic career could end today, but theirs is just getting started," said Clark. "Not many athletes get to stick around long enough to see what their legacy will look like."
Each Team USA medalist is given a unique opportunity to recognize a coach or mentor who made a difference for them — the Order of Ikkos award named after an ancient Grecian athlete and first coach. Chloe chose Kelly.
They hugged with reddened eyes. Then Kelly summed up her life in one short phrase: "If your dreams only include yourself, they're not big enough."
Kelly, thanks for sharing your dream.