Sunday, February 10, 2002 Updated: February 11, 12:52 PM ET
Clark's big final run proves to be a golden one
PARK CITY, Utah -- OK, snowboarders, maybe the Olympics
really are cool, after all.
Kelly Clark, 18, jumped higher than anyone else in the field.
Kelly Clark flew higher and nailed more dangerous tricks than
anyone in the halfpipe Sunday to become the first American to take
gold at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
"I can't even explain what I'm feeling right now," Clark said.
With rock music blaring over her headphones, she flew, twisted
and slid her way down the hollowed-out snow chute in the final run
of a thrilling day.
The crowd of 16,500 was the biggest these athletes had ever
performed in front of. It was a great day under a crystal-blue sky
that might have muted many critics -- in and out of the sport -- who
wondered whether snowboarding really belonged in the Olympics.
"Snowboarders have their reputations," Clark said. "But my
doing this, especially in the U.S., says a lot. Maybe it will shine
a light on snowboarding, and people will look at it in a different
Clark's mark of 47.9 easily beat Doriane Vidal of France, who
scored a 43.0 to win the silver, the first medal of these Olympics
for her country. Fabienne Reuteler of Switzerland won the bronze.
American Shannon Dunn, the bronze medalist in 1998, finished
fifth and teammate Tricia Byrnes was sixth.
The 18-year-old Clark won the gold with 30 seconds of drama and
tension in which most of the fans were squarely on her side.
Standing at the top of the chute, Clark played it cool, smiling
and pumping her fist at the flag-waving fans.
With "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n' Roses playing over the
sound system, Clark cranked up Blink 182's "This is Growing Up"
on her headphones and began her golden descent.
Normally, she uses the music to drown out the distractions, but
that wasn't possible this time.
"The crowd was going so wild, I could hear them over the
headphones," she said.
With every airborne move and perfect twist, things only got
louder. When it was over, she glided into the arms of her coach.
Once her score was announced, she climbed over a retaining fence to
celebrate with friends.
"I wouldn't have thought in a hundred years that I'd be here,"
said Clark, from Mount Snow, Vt. "At the last Olympics, I was a
kid sitting at Mount Snow Academy saying, 'Whatever.' I didn't
really think anything of making it here until last season."
She won the event with a pair of jumps, one called a McTwist -- a
540-degree inverted spin -- the other a 720-degree spin at the
bottom that she knew she needed to overcome Vidal.
"I figured I had second place wrapped up, so I had to go for
it," she said. "I knew I would regret it if I didn't."
Before the big technical tricks, she jumped higher above the lip
of the halfpipe than any of her competitors. It's called amplitude,
which carries extra weight in the world of Olympic judging, and
Clark was up to the task.
"I learned how to go big, to make the airs," Clark said of her
formative years in the sport. "It made sense to me that once you
have your amplitude down, when you try the tricks, they're a lot
easier, because you've got more time to do them."
Clark's victory marked the first gold medal for the United
States in Olympic snowboarding, a recreational pastime that has
continued growing, thanks to the X-Games phenomenon born in
"I think it's awesome," said 19-year-old Danny Kass, among the
favorites for gold in the men's halfpipe Monday. "Maybe it'll make
them open up a few more resorts for snowboarding."
Indeed, snowboarding has long wrestled with the issue of
mainstream acceptance, at the resorts and in the realm of
The International Olympic Committee added snowboarding in 1998
in an attempt to modernize its image. But it was a highly disputed
move, and there's still a large faction out there that believes
competing in the Olympics isn't true to the individualistic nature
of the game.
Clark hopes she helped change that.
"There are two sides of snowboarding, and it's all about
personal preference," she said. "But I think it's good for the
sport for people to see it this way."
It sure looked different from most Olympic sports Sunday.
In the packed stands, young men painted out "U.S.A." on their
bare chests in the subfreezing cold. Before the event, break
dancers boogied in the parking lot. A rock band played during
It was all part of an X-treme day, and even the second-place
finisher had to feel good, despite watching Clark win the gold at
the last second.
"It was a strange feeling, because I like her," Vidal said.
"I was hoping she would do good, because it would be good for the
show. I was also hoping she wouldn't beat me. But I'm still happy
because I did well."
Of course, winning the gold never comes easy, and it sure wasn't
easy for Clark.
She bruised her tailbone after a hard fall in training Thursday,
and had to sit out a day and ice it down.
"I was pretty sore, but I had so much adrenaline today, I
didn't feel much of anything," she said.