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I’ll be the first to dismiss the patriotic spirit as cheap sentimentalism projected on a random geographic location, but damn it if I didn’t have a tear in my eye watching Vermont’s Kelly Clark represent my country, sport, and gender in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Truly the future of women’s snowboarding, she brought progressive tricks and amazing amplitude to the thousands of fans today in attendance at Park City.

Twenty-three women from twelve countries competed this morning–and it was fairly clear early on who the afternoon’s heavy players would be. The judges were looking for height, and France’s Dorianne Vidal had a mean line of straight airs, as well as a frontside 720 (landed clean–not slid around from 540!). Ex-Junior World Champion Kjersti Buaas Oe of Norway went huge, kicking out a cool-looking frontside five, grabbed stalefish and thus slightly corked. While Kelly Clark was playing it safe with a fronstide 540 and a McTwist, you could see the adrenaline pumping through her body. “I almost died off my first hit,” she said about reeling in a huge backside air. But with qualification out of the way, she was already thinking ahead: “I’m definitely doing the McTwist to seven in the finals.”

Again, the judges were obviously prioritizing amplitude over technical rotations or transition. Nowhere was this more apparent than when Nagano Olympic bronze-medallist Shannon Dunn-Downing was awarded eighth place after piecing together the smoothest run so far, which just happened to include a clean McTwist and a 720. Although she may not have put in the most explosive performance of the morning, I definitely believe Shannon got robbed.

In a feat of tactical planning, the finals saw competitors switching things up–pushing for harder tricks and pulling out all the stops. American Tricia Byrnes, who had been doing a safety run in the qualifiers, stuck a nice McTwist during her second finals run. Fabienne Reuteler held her own with a frontside seven her first run. Yoko Miyake and Michiyo Hashimoto made Japan proud with huge airs and Yoko’s monster backflip. And Dunn-Downing slayed a flawless Crippler.

Vidal was in the lead after the first finals run with her spotless frontside seven, but most people seemed to know that Clark was going to turn it up during run-number two. With her finger on the pulse of the crowd, and just like she’d told me earlier, Kelly went richter, with a huge McTwist to 720, and a 540 lien at the top to boot. Her run was an obvious winner, with three technical tricks and what the judges were loving most–huge airs. The first things she did was call her friend Gretchen Bleiler and utter the words, “Dude, I won it.”

It’s no secret to us that this event is hanging on the coattails of snowboarding’s progressive, youthful energy. For example, that band Lit played during break before the finals, creating what was probably the first Olympic mosh pit (it made me wonder who they had booked to play the curling competition). But if you ignored the security guards armed with machine guns and over-amped Associated Press members carrying 10,000-dollar camera lenses, this was a really fun halfpipe contest with awesome weather and a great crowd. Oh, and the American riders slaughtered it.

Results

1. Kelly Clark USA

2. Doriane Vidal FRA

3. Fabienne Reuteler SUI

4. Kjersti Buaas Oe NOR

5. Shannon Dunn-Downing USA

6. Tricia Byrnes USA

7. Nici Pederzolli AUT

8. Yoko Miyaki JPN

9. Minna Hesso FIN

10. Lisa Therese Wiik NOR

11. Nicola Thost GER

12. Michiyo Hashimoto JPN