Aspen’s golden girl
So Gretchen Bleiler didn’t get her ESPY. Too bad. It would have been nice to see Bleiler’s acceptance speech on TV Sunday night instead of having to listen to Hannah Teter – Bleiler’s friend and fiercest rival – do her usual Jeff Spicoli impersonation.Don’t get me wrong. Teter is a fabulous snowboarder, and she made us all proud when she brought home a gold medal in February. But I’m biased, and I think Bleiler deserved the gold – and the ESPY that accompanied it.I’m not alone in my opinion. At the end of Bleiler’s final run in the halfpipe in Italy, NBC commentator and resident snowboarding legend Todd Richards said, “That’s the gold-medal run right there.”The judges scoring the event didn’t see it that way. Even though Bleiler, like Teter, had linked together 540s in her run to go with a 900. Even though Bleiler, unlike Teter, was the only snowboarder in the pipe to attempt – and land – a crippler, an inverted 540 that Bleiler has made her signature trick.The run was flawless and innovative, yet Bleiler still found herself second to the teammate she beat in four out of five Olympic qualifiers. It was a position in which she found herself again Wednesday at Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles as she watched Teter accept the award for Best Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year.Knowing Bleiler, she probably had a speech prepared. Bleiler is so articulate when she speaks, and so thoughtful, that she has a career in commentating if she ever wants it. That, or as a beauty queen. Bleiler appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with five of her teammates after the United States conquered the world in snowboarding. Unlike the rest of them, Bleiler is the only one who would ever be invited back to pose for the swimsuit issue.As for the commentating thing, “Good Morning America” host Charles Gibson was so impressed with Bleiler during a short interview before the Olympics that he brought her back on to the set more than once.Bleiler was supposed to appear only for a few minutes.What’s even more impressive about Bleiler, however, is the way she handles defeat. She was the favorite heading into the Olympics, so when Teter won she was asked if she was disappointed.I asked her if she thought Teter’s win was an upset.”Not at all,” Bleiler responded. “Once I got to the Olympics, my next goal was to medal. … Of course, when you’re at the Olympics you want to try to win, but I rode the best I could have ridden that day. The next morning when I woke up I was thinking it would have been cool to win, but all these things happen for a reason. I’ll take silver at the Olympics any day.”Gretchen, anyone will take that response any day. It was genuinely refreshing, compared with some of the other polarizing storylines that came out of this year’s Winter Games:Bode Miller fails to win a medal in any of his five events and shrugs it off as if the Olympics were as important as a darts competition back home in his native New Hampshire.Olympic ice skater Shani Davis opts out of the team pursuit competition – thus lessening his team’s chances of winning gold – solely because he wants to focus on his individual races.Never once, though, in any of the interviews I read, did Bleiler second-guess the decision of the judges, or act as if competing for her country wasn’t the proudest moment of her career.Bode could learn a thing or two from Aspen’s pipe princess. In fact, we all could. Bleiler even wrote a letter to The Aspen Times after winning her silver medal thanking everyone in town for their support and the parade that was held in her honor.In the eye of a media hurricane, Bleiler also managed to find time to squeeze in an interview with her hometown paper. She still manages to return nearly every phone call, too, even when she has the likes of US Weekly trying to get a hold of her.It’s why, even though she didn’t win a gold, or the ESPY, Gretchen Bleiler is still No. 1 in these parts.You don’t necessarily need the first-place medal to be golden.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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