Kelly Clark tops in Breck |

Kelly Clark tops in Breck

Adam BoffeySummit County correspondent
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

Aspen, CO ColoradoBRECKENRIDGE – Saturday’s women’s Grand Prix competition at Breckenridge had a finish that was as climactic as they come.When Kelly Clark entered the Breck halfpipe as the last female competitor of the day, the entire contest – and the $14,000 first prize that went with it – was hers to win or lose.No stranger to pressure situations, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist knew what she had to do – top Elena Hight’s leading score of 44.0.After a strong run, which featured a corked backside 540 as well as a frontside 720, Clark’s finishing place remained a short-lived mystery as five judges busily submitted their scores before the overall results were tabulated. With both a chunk of change and early season bragging rights hanging in the balance, everybody waited – the crowd, the NBC camera crew and most importantly Clark, who raised her snowboard in triumph when the announcement of her victory was finally made. “I felt good about how I rode,” said Clark (44.2 points), when asked if she was nervous while waiting for the judge’s tabulation. “Weather I came out first or second, it would have been a good turnout for me.”

Hight, who was moments away from her first career Grand Prix victory, seemed to take her last-minute inner-podium bump in stride.”We’re here to have fun and that’s how I ride,” Hight said. “Kelly’s riding amazing, so that’s how it worked out.”The 17-year-old, who finished sixth in the halfpipe at the Turin Olympics, was forced to come up big on her second run after falling on her first.”The first run is always the one you want to just land, so you can go for it on the second run,” she said following her second-place ride, which included a frontside 900 and a cab 360. “I was disappointed (about falling), but I got through it and had some fun.”Japan’s Soko Yamaoka took third place.

Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler – the top American halfpipe performers from Turin – were both absent from Saturday’s podium.Teter, the reigning gold medalist, opted out of the season-opening Grand Prix, while Aspen’s Bleiler (silver medal) simply had an off day.”My focus was not really there,” said Bleiler, following her seventh-place finish. “I’m going to have to get it together. I’m trying a different run than usual too, so I think it’s going to take a little more work than the just the first contest. … I had a fine day and usually I can pull it together, but it just wasn’t in the cards.”Saturday’s women’s field began as a group of 48 and was dwindled down to 10 after a morning qualifying round. Following a brief practice session for finalists, it was off to the money round, where four different countries were represented including the U.S. (six riders), Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Japan.Unlike the men who qualified on Friday and competed again on Saturday, the Breck Grand Prix women were forced to pack all of their action into a single day of competition.

“Everyone’s doing it, so it’s not a disadvantage,” said Olympic snowboard cross silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis, who finished sixth. “I prefer doing qualifiers in one day, but sometimes if you don’t do well, you can just wipe your slate clean and start again the next day.””It is a little more stressful with both in one day,” said Ellery Hollingsworth, a 15-year-old U.S. team member, who took eighth on Saturday. “But we do get more practice time than the guys today. … It’s good and bad, but I’m stoked on it.”Saturday’s standings barely changed in between the two rounds. Going into the finals, Clark was in first, followed by Yamaoka, then Hight.Clark, who was one place away from medaling at the Turin Games, returned to the Grand Prix podium after somewhat of a hiatus.”I’ve won a lot of them, but not in awhile,” she said of her series history. “It was a good confidence booster.”

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