Golden opportunities in halfpipe
December 15, 2005
BRECKENRIDGE – A warning, courtesy of Ross Powers and Kelly Clark: If you win the Olympic gold medal in snowboarding’s halfpipe competition, kiss life as you know it goodbye for a while. Don’t fight the insanity. Get used to smiling for the swirling, hounding media folk.(Oh yeah, and embrace the Daytona 500 if you get to go. It’s actually pretty cool.)With both Powers and Clark – the reigning Olympic gold medalists from Vermont – among a world-class international field in town for the Breckenridge Grand Prix, February’s gold medal winners-to-be are almost certainly in our midst.Powers and Clark spoke last week about the ways their Salt Lake City gold medals changed their lives. Some of it was for the better, some was for the wacky, and some was simply a burden, they said.
For starters, here is the list of television appearances they made in the weeks following their home-snow success: “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Weakest Link,” NBC’s “Today,” CNN Live and “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.In addition, both of them watched some of the gold medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canada with Vice President Dick Cheney and New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani. Clark met Britney Spears and attended the premiere of Spears’ movie with her (“That was crazy,” Clark says), and both Clark and Powers flew to Florida for the Daytona 500, where they hung out with people like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Visiting the White House and filming TV commercials also followed their Salt Lake success, as did preferential treatment virtually everywhere they went.”The Olympics lasted 14 days and nine of the days I was traveling from here, to there, to the talk shows, to Florida for the Daytona 500,” said Clark, who was 18 when she won gold. “I found myself in a lot of places that I never imagined I would’ve been.”Powers, 26, added, “I still tried to go to a few contests, but I never seemed to have any time to practice.”
What one must remember here, what makes these stories worth reading, is that snowboarders are not celebrities. Oh, they are celebrities among other snowboarders, and they are celebrities among fans of snowboarding, but they are not celebrities like we think of celebrities. This is where the Olympics come in. You win an Olympic gold medal, you’re a hot commodity. It doesn’t matter who you were before – or who you weren’t.But this is why the demand for Clark and Powers grew so high after their victories. Not only did they sweep the men’s and women’s gold medals, but they did so in a sport few knew much about – and a formerly renegade sport, at that.In 1998, when snowboarding made its Olympic halfpipe debut, a Swiss rider, Gian Simmen, won gold. Powers took bronze for the U.S., but as a whole, Clark pointed out, “It didn’t get much air time and it wasn’t received particularly well.”Everything changed in 2002.
“Having it in the U.S. and seeing American riders do well helped it,” Clark said. “I think it encouraged people to snowboard, and I think NBC did a really good job portraying it.”When they made the TV rounds, Clark and Powers spent as much time answering questions about their sport as they did answering questions about themselves. Clark even taught NBC “Today” show anchor Katie Couric how to snowboard.”I think they’re definitely trying to learn and trying to understand it,” she said of the mainstream audience.And so begins the chase to become snowboarding’s newest teaching ambassadors. Considering their experience, don’t count out Powers or Clark to repeat, either.”I’m looking forward to trying to go back,” Clark said, “knowing what I’m getting into this time.”
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