Pressure-free pipe smackdown at Aspen X Games
ASPEN – Gretchen Bleiler makes Kelly Clark want to be a better person. Ditto, Clark said, when it comes to Hannah Teter.
“I think us riding with each other causes us all to progress,” Clark said of the talented U.S. superpipe trio, who, in the last eight years, have won a combined three Olympic medals (two gold, one silver) and seven Winter X superpipe crowns. “When I see them riding, it makes me want to be a better snowboarder.”
Considering she already has one Olympic gold, and will be one of the favorites to win in Vancouver, it’s safe to wonder how much better Clark can get. The same goes for Bleiler, an Aspen local with three Winter X superpipe titles, and Teter, also a Vermont native, who claimed the most recent Olympic gold in halfpipe.
While men’s pipe riding, sans Shaun White, has reshuffled its deck repeatedly in the last decade, with young guns pushing out decorated vets, Bleiler, Clark and Teter have somehow continued to remain at the front of the conversation on the women’s side. Their excellence has become routine.
The three nearly pulled off a podium sweep at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics (Clark finished fourth) and could very well accomplish the feat next month at Cypress Mountain outside of Vancouver.
The only other rider who could spoil the podium party for the U.S., and belongs among the three in terms of prolonged success, is two-time defending Winter X superpipe champion Torah Bright. The 23-year-old from Australia, arguably the most innovative rider of the bunch, won’t get a chance to go for a record three-peat Saturday in the Buttermilk pipe after she bumped her head in practice Thursday and pulled out of competition with a reported concussion.
That means less of a challenge for the other recent superpipe champs, and not necessarily the Olympic preview everyone was hoping for.
Bleiler and Clark both said they are approaching Friday’s final as nothing more than practice for the Olympics next month.
“Landing the most technical run I can do in a contest setting is beneficial,” Clark said. “Putting down a technical run in a contest will be great and however I do at X Games is just icing on the cake.”
Added Bleiler: “Every day that I’m up on the mountain working on my run, working on my tricks, I’m getting better and better for the Olympics. This pipe is super icy, and I feel like if I can land the run I want to in this pipe the rest is easy.”
It has certainly looked that way at times. Though, for how good they’ve been for so long, Clark and Bleiler don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. They’re more worried about getting better.
“I don’t know why certain things progress at certain levels,” Clark said. “I know it’s been a privilege to be on the forefront of the progression.”
“We’re just really special people,” Bleiler joked. “Just growing up in the snowboard world with Kelly, we’ve been through a ton of stuff together and have a ton of experience competing and knowing what the judges want and knowing what they like.”
The two also admit that they’ve grown accustomed to pressure, something that comes with high Olympic expectations. Four years ago, Bleiler pulled out of the Winter X superpipe final the day of the competition citing exhaustion. Teter also pulled out with an injury, leaving Clark to win the gold amid a weaker field.
This year, Bleiler has no plans whatsoever of skipping a chance to shine for her hometown fans.
“I was very confident in getting on the team this year, so it wasn’t as mentally stressful,” she said.
In 2006, she said the qualifying process was absolutely draining.
“I showed up here and I just wasn’t riding the way I ride,” she said. “My body was giving me all these signs to not do it, stop, I was tired. I was exhausted. So I listened. It was a really hard decision, and it totally sucked the full week after just dealing with all the questions. And it didn’t feel good, it never feels good doing that, but you have to listen to your body. This time around, I feel good, I feel confident.”
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