CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — There’s a new world order in women’s snowboard halfpipe.
Australia’s Torah Bright brushed away talk of a United States sweep Thursday night with a clutch second run that left the last two Olympic champions — Americans Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark — settling for silver and bronze.
“Ask me tomorrow,” Bright said when asked about the win. “I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet.”
Bright, Teter, Clark and Aspen’s Gretchen Bleiler are accustomed to trading podium spots, but this was quite a shakeup after last month’s Winter X Games, where Bright missed a chance to defend her crown with a concussion and Bleiler edged Clark for her fourth gold.
Teter, who now calls South Lake Tahoe home but hails from Vermont, said landing her opening run allowed her some relief on a night when competitors continued to succumb to the conditions. In the second run, five of the 11 competitors fell.
“I fell every practice run,” Teter said. “Hit my bum three times hard. I’m happy to get it out of the way for the final. It takes a lot of positive thought. I got it back by visualizing and remembering it’s all fun and games.”
South Lake Tahoe’s Elena Hight worked through two rounds of qualifying to make the finals and finished eighth.
Bleiler said that win in her home pipe at Buttermilk gave her all the momentum she needed heading into the Olympics. But in the end, it was too much momentum that wiped out hopes of another Olympic medal to go with the silver she won in 2006.
All week in training runs, Bleiler said she had been struggling to land her signature trick, the crippler 720, on the icy Cypress Mountain pipe. She fell on the trick in her opening run, leaving her one final chance.
On her second run, with her hometown contingent of some 30 friends and family cheering on in the bleachers, Bleiler stuck the crippler to perfection. It was so good that she carried more speed than she was accustomed to into the next wall, and pulled into her spin early on a Cab 720, clipping the nose of her board.
That one mistake ended her night. Her board came down on the top of the pipe, sending her sprawling down the wall, relegating her to last place among the field of 11.
“If I would have waited a foot longer, I would have done the biggest Cab 7 I have ever done and won the Olympics,” she said. “But that didn’t happen.”
Bright, in turn, made her Olympic dreams come true after being forced into the position of doing her second run immediately after her first. As the top qualifier, she rode last in the first run, but fell twice and had to go first in the second run, since she had the lowest score. She quickly put the pressure back on her competitors, cycling through an array of technical tricks, including a switch backside 720. She wound up with a score of 45, edging Teter’s first run score of 42.4.
Clark put herself in medal position with a clean second run of her own that included backside 540, a frontside 720, a Cab 720 and a massive frontside 900.
“This is a really special medal for me because I’ve worked so hard to get here,” she said. “Pursuing Olympic dreams after missing the podium by one is a very difficult thing to do. I spent a lot more time preparing for this event, and, you know, I think medals are a really interesting thing. They’re prestigious, even the Olympic ones, even when you see them you stand in awe. Even for the person who receives them when they see them, they mean so much more. I see all the hard work and all the courage and all the people who believe in me.”
Bright, from the small Australian town of Cooma, said she had told her parents to stay home in Australia, but they surprised her by showing up in the grandstands.
“I was over at the house they were staying at yesterday and they weren’t there, but I found out they were hiding in a closet when I was there,” she said.
She then talked about bring home a gold medal from the Winter Olympics to a country not known for winter sports.
“We’re more known for our white sandy beaches,” Bright said. “We (my family) traveled a lot in the northern hemisphere. My mum schooled me, so I could keep snowboarding and doing what I do. It’s been a long journey, but a good one.”
Bleiler is just glad her Olympic journey is over. She planned to go on a vacation after Vancouver and spend time with her husband.
“It’s crazy, the Olympics. You get two runs of finals, and you work so hard, but sometimes, I don’t know, it just isn’t your turn,” she said. “It really came down to that Crippler 7 for me. That’s what it came down to for me. After X Games, finals day of practice, I started throwing it weird. From then on, I haven’t been doing it right and because of that I’ve had to fight for my runs. Not fight for them, but really focus and try and land it. For me, I was working toward getting what I knew what I already had.
“Sometimes, it’s yours, sometimes it’s not. It actually feels good, because actually I worked my butt off to make it happen and I did almost.”