Halfpipe gold whole lot of fun for Clark of Vt.

`So psyched,' American rocks on final snow run to top a `stoked' field

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 11, 2002|By DETROIT FREE PRESS

PARK CITY, Utah - Are you stoked? Are you pumped? America won its first gold medal of these X ... er, Olympic Games when Kelly Clark won the women's halfpipe yesterday. A day of fun - the sun, the snow, the disc jockey, the live rock band, the fans - came down to the final run.

"I'm so psyched. It's so amazing," Clark said.

Twelve women made the final. Twice, they took their snowboards down the halfpipe in succession, zigzagging across and doing aerial tricks for the judges. They earned two scores each, but only their best one counted. In first place in qualifying, Clark went last each time.

Her first run, she scored 40.8. Pretty good. So good that, when she stood atop the hillside for her second run, she already had clinched silver. France's Doriane Vidal was the woman to beat with a 43.0. With nothing to lose, Clark decided to go for the gold.

"I figured I'd regret it if I didn't," she said.

Clark, of Mount Snow, Vt., picked the heavy-metal soundtrack to her heavy-medal routine. "Welcome to the Jungle" blasted from the loudspeakers.

"Little Guns `N' Roses for ya," she said.

But a Blink 182 song blasted inside her earphones.

"Every time before I drop into the pipe, I turn up my minidisc and try not to pay attention to what's going on around me," she said.

She had been flying high enough, she thought, so she upgraded her technical tricks. She grabbed her board during a 540-degree spin. For her finale, she did a 720, not a 540. Afterward, she slid to a stop in the snow. She put her hands in the air. Then she waited for the judges.

Vidal was sure Clark had won.

"I think she really deserved first place," Vidal said.

Sure enough, she did. The judges gave her a 47.9, nearly a perfect score, one of the best of her career. She hugged her friends and coaches. She jumped atop a metal railing and raised an arm to the 16,500-some in attendance. She had won her first Olympic medal.

"I'm so psyched," Clark said. "It's pretty amazing winning the U.S.'s first goal medal, especially having the games here in the U.S. It means a lot to me being an American. We've had a tough few months here, and it's really good to be part of something people can be proud of."

Clark's victory capped a heck of a party. Listen to the women who lost:

Vidal: "I'm so happy, anyway."

Switzerland's Fabienne Reuteler, who won bronze: "I'm just stoked that this happened."

Norway's Kjersti Buaas Oe, who finished fourth: "I'm stoked to have made the finals."

American Shannon Dunn-Downing, who finished fifth: "I'm stoked, actually."

See? This was a good time.

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