Bright lights … and a big upset
January 26, 2007
ASPEN ” Just one fall Thursday night, and hometown favorite Gretchen Bleiler found herself down under to Aussie Torah Bright in the women’s superpipe final.
Bright became the first Australian ever to win a gold medal at the Winter X Games – fittingly, on Australia Day – while Bleiler settled for second, and Elena Hight took third.
“Oy! Oy! Oy!” Bright yelled to her contingent of Aussie fans after her winning 94.66 technical second run.
“X Games, it’s the biggest event in the U.S. and one of the biggest snowboarding events, so it’s incredible to be clutching a gold medal,” the 20-year-old Aussie said between smiles. “All the Aussies out there that were cheering me on. It was incredible. There was a group who would run up the pipe, I’d see them up at the top, and then they’d be down at the bottom as I finished. They were doing the laps as I was.”
Bleiler, last year’s Olympic silver medalist who won the Winter X superpipe in 2003 and 2005, was gracious in defeat.
“Torah rode amazingly,” Bleiler said. “She had such a sick run, so technical. No other girl is doing anything like. She totally deserved it and won it today.”
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Bleiler was the top qualifier Wednesday, and looked primed to take a victory lap Thursday night after grabbing the lead with an aggressive 91-point first run. She stuck a massive frontside 900 on her opening hit, added her signature crippler (inverted 540) midway through her run, and finished with back-to-back 540s.
After defending superpipe champ Kelly Clark fell on her second run, ending a disappointing night, Bright stepped into the spotlight and pulled the upset.
She opened with a tricky air-to-fakie transfer, then swung a Cab 720, followed by a huge McTwist two hits farther down the pipe. She closed with a backside 360 and then a switch backside 540.
Hight, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., the second-to-last rider to go, jumped into third – ahead of Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter – with an aggressive 88-point final run that included a backside 900 on her third hit and ended with a big frontside 720. The backside 900 was the first of its kind ever in a women’s halfpipe competition.
Bleiler had her final chance to unseat Bright but fell on her opening 900. At the bottom, the top two finishers shared a hug.
“People were throwing down,” Bleiler said. “I mean Torah’s run was insane, pretty much flawless. Elena doing a backside , I mean, c’mon, are you kidding me? … The level is just insane. It’s fun to watch.”
Without a 900 in her run, Bright said she tried to be as technical as possible to separate herself from the rest of the field.
“I’ve chosen a really different routine because I didn’t want to be involved in the battle of the 900s,” she said. “What the girls are doing is incredible. Eventually, I’ll start working on that, but I’ve been focusing on a lot of switch stuff, like switch backside, which is the hardest rotation in the halfpipe.”
Hight, who finished sixth at last year’s Olympic halfpipe final, was just happy to get a medal at the Winter X Games – finally.
“Getting a medal is incredible,” she said. “I have not been in a final here that has been so competitive. I have been in others. The Olympic final was crazy. I feel like women’s snowboarding is stepping it up in every competition, and everyone pushes themselves. All the lights and the crowd really brings it out in everyone.”
Bleiler said it was a strange feeling to lose the event she has dominated since 2003 (she didn’t compete in 2004 and last year), but chose to look at the positives.
She fell in every one of her practice runs before the final, only to stick her opening run.
“It was definitely a hard night for me,” she said. “What I am happy about is that I overcame. I didn’t land one run tonight in practice, not one, so to come out there first run and actually land it was a feat in itself. Sometimes, you just have to look at the positives and appreciate them, because when I came down that first run I was very happy. Just because I didn’t ride my absolute best doesn’t mean I didn’t do a good job tonight.”
Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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