Bright night for Australia's golden girl
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- A few hours before women's halfpipe finals, while the sun was still shining and the temps were pushing springtime, Torah Bright's fiancé, Jake Welch, had an idea.
He trekked the more than 200 stairs leading to and from the spectator section, found a few buckets of red latex paint in a shed at the bottom of Cypress Mountain, and recruited a few of his family members to donate their chests in the name of national pride.
"They did it in Torino, so I guess we should have expected a repeat performance here," said Ben Bright, Torah's older brother and coach.
As Welch's sister Heidi was painting the letters that would eventually spell out "G-O T-O-R-A-H," she realized she was one family member short. "A guy who was standing nearby in the stands offered to be the H," she said. "So I painted him, too."
After Bright fell twice in her first run, she looked into the stands and saw her shirtless soon-to-be in-laws braving what had become a freezing night to cheer her on, Aussie-style.
"I saw them all having so much fun and thought, 'They're having fun. I should go out and have fun, too,'" Bright said. "Falling in your first run is never good, but I just had to land one, and I knew I could land this run."
In the second half of competition, Bright was the first rider to drop and was the first of many riders who fell in their first runs with an opportunity to redeem themselves. She thought about everything she'd gone through in the past four years to get back to the Olympics. She'd landed the run of her life in Torino, but her technical riding didn't score well with the judges, and she finished out of the medal positions. Beginning in 2007, she fought through an injury to her left shoulder that hampered her for more than two years and eventually required surgery. In January, she suffered a trifecta of concussions that caused her to miss the Winter X Games and spend her pre-Olympic weeks off snow.
"If I could take back all the head-banging, I definitely would," Bright said. "But my parents taught me that if I am going to do something, I have to give it my best shot. I've been pushing myself, and my brother Ben has been pushing me to reach my potential."
In her second run, she did just that, landing the most technical, solid run of the night. This time, the judges agreed. When her score of 45 flashed across the screen, Bright ran to Ben at the bottom of the pipe, and the two of them waved into the stands once again.
"That's when I saw my parents," Bright says. "I couldn't believe it. I thought they were still in Australia. I had told them not to come. I said I would prefer them to be at my wedding in Salt Lake in June. But I should have known they'd be here anyway."
By the end of the contest, she was sure glad they were. Bright's score held through the finals, and when the score for Hannah Teter, the final rider to compete, flashed on the screen, the Australians celebrated in an explosion of gold glitter. Bright had just become the first Australian to win an Olympic medal in snowboarding and only the fourth Winter Olympic gold medalist from Down Under. Teter, the 2006 gold medalist, finished second, and Kelly Clark, the 2002 gold medalist, finished third.
"It was so hard to keep it a secret from her," said Marion Bright, Torah's mom, after finally getting the hug she'd waited for all night. "We were always coming, but we didn't want to rock the boat. I didn't want it to be a shock, so we hid until after her second run. She even came into the room we were in last night, and her dad and I hid in the closet."
Bright was the only one, it seems, who believed her family would be willing to watch her win a gold medal on tape delay.
"I was in the car with Torah's sister Abi when they announced on the radio that Torah would be carrying the flag for Australia in the opening ceremonies," Mom said. "Abi has been crying ever since. We are so proud of her. There was just no way any of us were going to miss this night for the world."
Even if it meant flying halfway around it.
Alyssa Roenigk is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.