Teter edges Bleiler, defends Breck crown | AspenTimes.com

Teter edges Bleiler, defends Breck crown

Devon O'NeilSummit County correspondent

Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

After Aspen’s Gretchen Bleiler bumped Teter from the top spot in the first run of Wednesday’s U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix halfpipe final, the 18-year-old Vermont native delivered a message to her friendly rival at the top of the pipe, moments before their second run.”I went right before her ,and I was telling her, ‘I’m gonna push you,'” Teter said. “And she’s like, ‘All right, push me.'”Teter pushed hard. She landed a new run that was just enough to relegate Bleiler to runner-up Wednesday, in what promises to be a spirited battle between the two women leading up to the Olympics. Teter’s 44.9 points beat Bleiler’s first-run 43.8 after Bleiler fell midway through her second run, allowing Teter to walk away with her sixth career Grand Prix win. The perpetually grinning teenager has won three of the last four Grand Prix events at Breckenridge.”After stomping one, I was like, ‘All right, let’s go for it,'” Teter said. “And I just tried to go as big as I could. I was feeling it when I dropped in.”

Although both Bleiler and Teter are expected to make the Olympic team that will travel to Turin, Italy, in February, Wednesday’s victory was significant for both because nothing is guaranteed in the qualifying process. And with neither having made the cut for the Salt Lake City games in 2002, getting off to a good start was of prime importance.Teter knew it. Comparing it to her win at last year’s Breck Grand Prix event, she said, “This year’s way crazier. It’s kind of more of an accomplishment, I guess.”Bleiler, who, like Teter, began her run with a 900, did not fare well at Breckenridge in 2002, when the Freeway pipe served as the final stop on the Grand Prix tour. In fact, she said she has never had much luck competing at Breck, though she noted it has nothing to do with tearing apart her knee while training here two years ago.”It’s harder here because it’s windy, it’s cold and the pipe’s pretty icy,” she said. “But this is a good start.”

Kelly Clark, the reigning Olympic gold medalist and one of the contenders to medal in Italy, qualified second behind Elena Hight on Wednesday morning. But she was unable to compete in the final after injuring herself during a training run.Hight, meanwhile, backed up her performance in the morning qualifying heat – at which time the field was pared down from 34 to 12 – with a third-place finish in the final. The 16-year-old national team member from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., is among the U.S. riders in contention for one of the American team’s four Olympic spots.Wednesday’s fourth- through sixth-place finishers, Lindsey Jacobellis, Tricia Byrnes and Molly Aguirre, also figure to have a say in that race.Jacobellis is the defending Grand Prix pipe champ, while Byrnes finished sixth at the 2002 Olympics.

If Wednesday’s can-you-top-this battle between Teter and Bleiler wasn’t proof enough, Byrnes reminded the world how far women’s snowboarding has come in the four years since Clark won gold in Utah.”You watch this final and it’s like, 900, 900, backside seven – everything under the sun,” Byrnes said. “The level of riding and amplitude is getting better and better.”Among the rest of the field, Switzerland’s Andrea Schuler, in seventh, was the top international finisher. Minturn’s Clair Bidez, who qualified eighth, stumbled during both of her runs and settled for 10th.The women now have two days to rest before getting back at it Saturday morning with a qualifier then an afternoon final. Like the men, the U.S. women’s best two results among the five Grand Prix pipe events will determine their Olympic standing.