Kelly Clark competes in the women’s snowboard superpipe final on Saturday night at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo.
ASPEN, Colo. — Just like Shaun White, Kelly Clark is so smooth and so highly successful in the superpipe.
And also just like the snowboarding icon, she’s on an entirely different level from everyone else. Especially at Winter X, where she won her third straight title on a foggy and snowy Saturday night.
But unlike White, Clark isn’t a household name. Not even close. In spite of her dominance, White’s kind of fame — even a really small sliver of it — hasn’t really found her. Clark’s not on the cover of any video games and she hasn’t appeared on the front of “Rolling Stone.”
Know what? She’s all right with that.
For her, it’s more about progression than popularity. She’s simply trying to evolve her sport with innovative tricks — same as White.
“I want to see a culture and a sport that was better because I was a part of it,” said Clark, 29, and a native of West Dover, Vt. “I hope that wherever I can take this sport to, that my ceiling becomes the next generation’s floor.”
She’s setting an awfully lofty standard. When she’s on her game, there are few better in the pipe. She goes higher that everyone else and pulls off even the most challenging trick with ease.
These days, she’s in polish mode as she works on sharpening her tricks. Down the road, Clark will attempt to dial in some sort of double rotation, the next big thing in the halfpipe and a trick that Elena Hight landed Saturday night. On the last maneuver of her first run, Hight hit what snowboarders refer to as a “double alley-oop backside rodeo (essentially two backflips with a 180-degree rotation), the first time it’s been completed in competition.
But Clark surpassed Hight’s history making run by simply getting more height in the pipe on her final turn, which the judges rewarded.
“I think the level of women’s snowboarding tonight was at an all-time high,” Clark said. “What Elena did for the sport was incredible.”
It’s a trick Clark might have to incorporate. She has tried it a few times into an air bag, but “I’m not there yet with my double.” That double, though, could be the difference between being on the podium and missing out entirely at the Sochi Games next winter.
She’s been a frequent sight on the podium at the Olympics. She won gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and a bronze in Vancouver eight years later.
In between, though, was a crushing fourth-place finish at the 2006 Turin Games. She was off to a great run that day, only to make a mistake to lose out on a medal.
“I had to pick myself up after finishing one spot off the podium. That was hard,” said Clark, who lives and trains in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. “That’s why I can say that the bronze medal means more to me than the gold.”
Soon after Vancouver, Clark altered her training program and made working out in the gym more of a priority. It’s been quite beneficial, too — she had a recent streak of capturing 16 straight competitions.
A very White-esque type of streak, for sure.
“The sport is demanding more and more from us physically,” Clark said. “But I feel stronger than I ever have.”
Not exactly what her competitors want to hear.
Her biggest challenger in recent years has been Australia’s Torah Bright, who captured Olympic gold in Vancouver. It’s a robust rivalry — although Bright doesn’t use the term “rivalry” — filled with mutual admiration.
“Kelly’s an incredibly dynamic rider,” said Bright, who recently announced she wants to try slopestyle — the newest Olympic sport — and boardercross in Sochi, along with defending her superpipe crown. “Since she was 16 and I first saw her in the pipe, I’ve been in awe of her.
“She’s done so much for the sport, so much for the women in the sport and she’s still going for it.”
Away from the slopes, Clark plays the guitar, reads books, watches movies and drinks lots of coffee.
You know, routine stuff.
But on the hill, her performances are anything but routine.
“I think excellence is a high priority for me in my everyday life and it transitions into my snowboarding,” said Clark, who has a foundation that’s raised more than $42,000 in scholarships for young snowboarders with a financial need. “I’m not out there to spin in the wind, be the person to land one trick.”
No, she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and plenty of titles to show for it.
Notoriety? Well, that’s been more difficult to come by. Not that she really minds.
“You have to ask yourself, `What’s most important? What do I want to invest in?”’ said Clark, whose parents own a pizza parlor in West Dover, and proudly display her Olympic gold medal in the restaurant. “I’d rather invest in youth and the next generation.
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