Kelly Clark Biography
Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information
American snowboarder Kelly Clark "had such an awesome run," on February 10, 2002, her Olympic teammate Shannon Dunn-Downing told the Washington Post. "She just kept going big. She did a super-nice McTwist … at the end, she just busted out a seven." Translation: Clark won the gold medal in the women's halfpipe competition in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. And she did so by soaring higher, and landing more inverted tricks than most of her fellow competitors. Clark's medal was the first American gold in snowboarding, and also the first gold of the 2002 Olympics.
Clark was born July 26, 1983 in Newport, Rhode Island. Her family moved to Mount Snow, Vermont, and her parents, Terry and Cathy Clark, own a tavern in nearby West Dover, Vermont called T.C.'s Family Restaurant. She was a ski racer until the third grade, when she got bored of skiing and tried snowboarding, which had just been allowed at her home mountain. Her parents tried to convince her to stick with skiing, that snowboarding was just a fad. Clark began competing in local contests at age thirteen. In ninth grade, she enrolled in the ski academy at Mount Snow, where students divide their time between academics and ski or snowboarding training. She started training with the
U.S. Snowboard Team in 2000. Clark graduated high school in 2001 and was accepted at the University of Rhode Island, but deferred her first year of college to concentrate on her snowboarding. She moved to Mammoth, California to train for the Olympics.
When Clark was in ninth grade, and snowboarding debuted as an Olympic sport in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, not a single woman did what is called an "inverted air," which is a somersault in the air after coming off the wall of the halfpipe. In 2002, many women attempted them, but few landed them as confidently as Clark did. She said fear was her biggest obstacle when she first starting attempting the high-flying tricks. "Once you break through that level of fear, and feel comfortable with yourself, you can push yourself to the limit," she told the Washington Post.
Clark entered the U.S. Championships in 1999 and finished third in the snowboardcross event and fourth in the halfpipe. In 2000, she won the World Junior Championships, took second at the Goodwill Games, and took a first in snowboardcross and fourth in halfpipe at the U.S. Championships. In 2001, she swept both events at the U.S. Championships as well as the prestigious U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix. In addition to her halfpipe gold at the Olympics, Clark took first place at the X Games and U.S. Championships before the year 2002 was through. Though she is a competent snowboard-cross rider, Clark gave it up to focus on halfpipe because snowboardcross riders tend to be more prone to injuries. Even though she was a success on the competition circuit, and the prize money was good for her bank account, Clark could just as soon do without competing. "I don't think snowboarding needs contests," she told WWD, "but they are fun to participate in."
Clark went into the Olympics with a hairline fracture in her right wrist and pain in her back from a crash in practice only days before the competition. Doctors were consulted, X-rays were taken. "When I was lying … in bed that night, I was thinking, 'Ohhh, what am I going to do?'" she recalled in the New York Times. Clark probably knew that she was going to do what she traveled to Salt Lake City to do: compete in her sport.
"The most impressive thing about her is her incredible attitude," Jake Burton, of the Burton snowboard company, told WWD. "Obviously, she's got the skills, but mentally she's unflappable. Nerves are a big part of this, as much as they are for figure skating and golf." In addition to nerve, she is known for being aggressive in the halfpipe, but, off the course, "she is calm and soft-spoken, eschewing the rebel image of snowboarders," Edward Wong noted in the New York Times. "She could very well be the fresh-scrubbed Generation Y champion that Olympic officials hope will draw younger fans."
Clark competes wearing her mini-disc headphones and listening to music to drown out distraction. As she hit the wall and sailed upwards of eight to nine feet in the air on her Olympic halfpipe runs, though, even loud music by the rock group Blink 182 could not compete with the roaring crowd. "They were so amazing," she said of the cheering fans in Teen People. "I've never heard anything like it." And her competitors—most of whom reach heights of five to six feet in the air—had never seen anything like Clark. "I try to have as much personal style as I can to make the most twists and stand out for the judges," she told WWD.
France's Doriane Vidal was in the lead when Clark prepared to make her third and final run in the 426-foot halfpipe on February 10, 2002. Her final Olympic half-pipe competition lasted less than two minutes, but she managed to pack in seven tricks, including a McTwist with an indy grab and a front side 720. That is, an inverted aerial trick where the rider does a 540-degree rotational flip, followed by a 720-degree spin.
Clark's personal style impressed the five competition judges enough to earn her a gold medal—the first for an American in the 2002 Games—in the halfpipe competition. The judges gave her 47.9 out of 50 points, with the French judge turning in a perfect ten. During the awards ceremony, she pulled silver and bronze-medal winners Vidal and Fabienne Reuteler from Switzerland up to share her top spot on the podium after the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner." "It's unbelievable," Clark told the Washington Post after her win. "I've never had a feeling like that in my life. It was so overwhelming, and so rewarding at the same time. It means a lot to me, and all the rest of America."
Sketch by Brenna Sanchez
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