Kaitlyn Farrington Wins Olympic Halfpipe Gold at Sochi

All Photos: Chris Wellhausen

Riders like Kelly Clark, Mark McMorris, Shaun White, and Jamie Anderson have been preparing for their Olympic disciplines for years—all of their efforts, the resources behind them, compressed into two runs maybe 45 seconds long. They came to the Games to medal. There are massive expectations and, for Shaun especially, massive endorsement deals hang in the balance. All of this while the world watches. It was subtle, but as these four dropped in for the first runs of their respective slopestyle and pipe events over the last week there was an unusual tension to their riding. The pressure here is incredible. And except for Jamie, none of them achieved the gold they hoped for—Kelly ended up with bronze today as did Mark on Saturday, and Shaun didn’t podium.

Other riders, they’re happy to even be at the Olympics. They’re stoked if they make finals. The whole thing is just a good experience. As they strap in for their runs they’re smiling and soaking it all in—nothing to loose. That’s what we saw when Sage Kotsenburg won the first Olympic slopestyle on Saturday. And that’s what we saw again tonight as Idaho’s Kaitlyn Farrington won gold in halfpipe.

“Right now I can’t even believe I won a gold medal,” Kaitlyn said. “I mean, I was hoping to just make it to finals. That was my main goal for today. After semifinals I was riding really well during the practice and I was like, ‘If I land my run I might be able to be in that top three spot.’”

While she wasn’t going as big as some of the other riders, Kaitlyn did better than she could have dreamed, landing her second run cleaner than the first for a score of 91.75.

Kaitlyn Farrington’s Olympic halfpipe gold medal run

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But Kaitlyn qualified seventh, meaning there were still six more heavy hitters waiting to take their final runs, including Spain’s Queralt Castellet, Australia’s Torah Bright, and US riders Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark. Torah, Kelly, and Queralt had all fallen on their first runs so for them it was go time. With Hannah sitting in second after Kaitlyn’s run there was a real possibility for a US sweep if Kelly got her frontside 1080 clean again. Hannah had one chance to regain the lead but she fell.

The next threat was Queralt. She put down one of the biggest, cleanest backside 900s ever done in a women’s pipe comp on her first run but was sketchy on almost every hit of her second run, eventually falling near the bottom.

Torah sent the message that she was serious about gold as she blasted a huge McTwist on her first hit. The rest of her run was clean except for the Cab 720 and her last hit where she had a little difficulty riding away. Those slight mistakes brought her score in a quater point shy of Kaitlyn’s at 91.50.

Torah Bright Olympic halfpipe silver medal run

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Now Kelly Clark was the only rider who could displace Kaitlyn. Kelly had fought hard to qualify first, earning the right to drop last. She knew where all the other riders stood. All she had to do was land her run. Kelly outsized all the other competitor’s airs with a huge frontside air on her first hit and things were looking good until she washed around on the last part of her 1080. That slowed her down making her Cab 720 hard to get around. She also flailed a little on her final method. After a long wait from the judges Kelly was handed a 90.75, which bumped Hannah out of a medal. Again, just a quarter point separated the two.

Kelly Clark Olympic halfpipe bronze medal run

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What made the difference? Any of the women who were paying attention to the men’s pipe the day before would have seen that amplitude played a key role in scores. Clean landings mattered too, but for the guys the most technical run didn’t mean much if they weren’t absolutely sending it above the lip. Greg Bretz, for example, suffered from this as he didn’t do any big straight airs, opting instead for mid-level spins on every hit.

Tonight, as ladies like Queralt, Hannah, Torah, and Kelly focused on amplitude they struggled with clean landings and smooth tricks. The trend towards going as big as possible was likely pushed by Kelly as well, who is known for the size of her airs.

That allowed Kaitlyn to come in under the radar with technical combos like her melon to fakie to switchbackside 720, land them clean, and pick up gold. With that Torah settled for silver and Kelly for bronze. Although it was a bittersweet day for Kelly she did become the first snowboarder to win three Olympic medals.

Kaitlyn’s gold is a huge victory both personally and for the US team after no US men won a pipe medal, a first since halfpipe was added to the Olympics in 1998. But perhaps Torah summed up the spirit of it all best when she said, “We all put on a show, so it doesn’t matter the color of the medal. We’re all here united as shredding babes.”

Women’s Olympic Halfpipe Results

Gold: Kaitlyn Farrington (USA)

Silver: Torah Bright (AUS)

Bronze: Kelly Clark (USA)

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Your Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington (center) with silver medalist Torah Bright (left), and bronze medalist Kelly Clark (right).

More Sochi 2014 Olympic Coverage here