Clark captures 6th U.S. Open halfpipe title

Pat Graham
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colo. – Perplexed by a new trick, Kelly Clark gave it a whirl on her final run, just to see if she could finally land it.

She didn’t and tumbled to the snow.

Hardly mattered, though, since she already had this competition locked up. That seems to be a trend.

Whether the U.S. Open snowboarding championships are held in Vail or Vermont, Clark always seems to wind up with the victory. She captured her sixth halfpipe title on Saturday, the most in the history of the competition.

Clark’s electric opening run earned a score of 84.45 points and she edged Hannah Teter by 2.32. Arielle Gold, an up-and-coming 16-year-old from Steamboat Springs, Colo., finished third.

“This is a huge honor for me,” the 29-year-old Clark said.

No playing it safe for Clark, either, even on a victory lap.

Clark soared high in the air – like she usually does – to start her last run and attempted a backward rotation with 2 1-2 spins. Only, she caught an edge and wiped out. Hardly missing a beat, though, she popped back up and entertained the crowd with a few more tricks before gliding to a stop at the finish.

That was contrast to Shaun White, who opted for a mellow final run after he wrapped up the men’s race.

So, why such a high degree of difficulty?

“That’s how I’ve always done it. That’s how I always will do it,” Clark said. “I’ve been working on progressing my riding and there’s no better environment to do that than in a competition setting. I didn’t quite get it around, and it’s definitely something to work on in the future.”

This was 61st win of Clark’s career, more than even White. That’s how dominant she’s been.

Still, she’s constantly striving to step up her game to keep a step ahead of the competition, dialing in tricks now to use down the road, like at the 2014 Sochi Games.

“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that by the time you get to the Olympics, if you don’t have it, you’re not going to get (your tricks) there,” said Clark, who won Olympic gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and bronze in Vancouver. “It’s all about riding. I usually spend years leading up to Games getting my riding to the place it needs to be.

“I have some high goals and high standards.”

Clark simply stole the spotlight in Vail, just like she did all those times in Vermont, where this event was held for 30 years before relocating out west this season. From West Dover, Vt., Clark was sorry to see it leave, especially since it meant her parents couldn’t watch her compete in person.

“A little bit of a downer,” she said. “But everything else was pretty awesome today.”

Hardly a surprise, Teter was the one pushing Clark. Teter, who’s also originally from Vermont, always seems to raise her game on the biggest of stages. She won gold at the 2006 Turin Games and silver four years later in Vancouver.

“I do really well when it comes to pressure, just buckling down and focusing,” Teter said. “I’ve done really well with that.”

About the only thing she had trouble with on this sun-splashed day was opening a champagne bottle to celebrate. Finally, she just broke it.

“Pretty dangerous – my hands were covered in glass,” she said, laughing.

Gold is the new competitor in the pipe and quickly making a name for herself. She won the snowboard world championships in Quebec in January, along with finishing third at the Winter X Games.

“Being on the podium with these guys has been awesome,” Gold said.