Bleiler stays golden with Gravity victory
Summit County correspondent
COPPER MOUNTAIN ” What can she say? The girl is on a roll.
With her blown-out knee of last winter now a distant memory, Snowmass snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler built on a season to remember Saturday by winning the Winter Gravity Games women’s superpipe gold medal at Copper Mountain.
Bleiler easily topped a field that included some of the sport’s biggest names thanks to a pair of runs that were far and away the best of the day. She threw 900s in both of them ” the first time she’d executed that trick in competition ” but she landed slightly cleaner on her second, which produced the winning 91.3-point score.
Bleiler took home $20,000 for the victory, the same amount she got for winning the Winter X Games pipe gold at Aspen in January. It was that contest that kick-started her triumphant comeback season, which also has included a World Cup win on the 2006 Olympic pipe-to-be in Italy and a second-place finish at another World Cup pipe event.
“Once you start riding well and you have confidence and you get a first, you just get on a roll after that,” said Bleiler, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament while riding at Breckenridge last season.
She finished fourth in her first two major events this season, then took two weeks off to regroup before delighting the home crowd at Winter X Games Nine in Aspen. Now, she said, she’s riding “above and beyond where I was” before the injury.
Vermont teen sensation and U.S. Snowboard Team star Hannah Teter took silver at 88.3, though her run wasn’t near as diversified as Bleiler’s two best. (In addition to her winning run, Bleiler took an early lead with a 91.0 less than a half hour into the two-hour jam format.)
Teter threw a 900 early on in her silver-medal run to get the judges’ attention, then played it somewhat safe for the rest of the run after a number of frustrating stumbles had derailed potentially high-scoring runs for her earlier in the contest.
She, like many of the other riders in the tiny, eight-woman field, was visibly fatigued in the later stages of the jam session.
She also seemed slightly confused afterward about whether she was happy with her result.
“I’m never satisfied with anything but “” Teter said, then stopped herself before finishing the sentence that seemed destined to include “a win.”
“Actually, no, I won’t say that,” she continued, which made sense considering the $10,000 second-place check. “I’m stoked.”
Fifteen-year-old Elena Hight of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., eked past 2002 Olympic pipe gold medalist Kelly Clark to take bronze. She headed home with $7,500 to put toward her first car ” once she gets a driver’s license.
Hight, a second-year U.S. Snowboard Team member, took full advantage of the lower pressure associated with the jam format ” a loose, free-for-all session which allowed every rider at least 12 trips down the pipe. She posted her third-place score early on, then took some chances and tried some backside spins she usually doesn’t attempt in competition. It wasn’t without its drawbacks, though: Hight grated her face against the hard pipe walls late in the contest and came up bloody and scraped, yet somehow smiling.
“It makes everyone ride harder, stronger, try new tricks, really push the sport,” Hight said of the format.
“It’s cool, because you don’t care,” Teter added. “You go for it every time.”
The format wore on the spectators a bit, however, because of the way the additional chance-taking led to more falls. More than half of Saturday’s runs ended either in a stumble or outright crash.
Following Clark’s fourth-place finish was Junko Asazuma of Japan (71.3); U.S. Team veteran Tricia Byrnes (69.3); and Canada’s Amanda Mourant (62.7).
Copper Freeride member and U.S. Snowboard Team member Clair Bidez of Minturn failed to link a solid run and finished eighth with a score of 59.0.
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