U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team Biographies
Gretchen Bleiler, USA
Hometown: Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado
Board team: K2
Olympic outlook: Gretchen is made for this caliber of event. She’s a fierce competitor with tons of contest experience and the consistency that comes with it. Her classic Crippler has recently been upgraded to a Crippler 720-plus, there’s the solid nine and back-to-back fives and sevens. She’s also in the unique position of having prior Olympics medal experience while still being a bit of an underdog. Having touched down in the silver-medal spot behind fellow American Hannah Teter at the Torino Games, Gretchen’s undoubtedly got a fire under her ass to get the gold on this go-round.
Potential downfall: Although she’s a seasoned competitor with consistency on her side, Gretchen’s weakest link was surprisingly consistency and injuries-she’s had several concussions recently. She also didn’t seem to get much love from the judges during the Grand Prix series.
Kelly Clark, USA
Hometown: West Dover, Vermont
Board team: Burton
Olympic outlook: Two-time Olympian and the first American to win a Superpipe gold in the history of the Games, Kelly Clark is, in all estimations, powerful podium material heading into Vancouver. A strong rider/competitor both mentally and physically, she’s known for going big and doing her tricks with authority. She has a winning stock run that includes back-to-back 540s and 720s, along with a huge front 900, and overall insane amplitude. Although staunchly consistent in this competition season, Kelly’s riding is nothing if not spectacular-and you have to take chances to pull off that kind of explosiveness. With that said, a crash in Torino led to a disappointing fourth place finish, and she’s undoubtedly hungry for redemption this time around.
Potential downfall: Kelly’s weak spots are few and far between. During the Grand Prix qualifying season, like Shaun, she placed first in four out of five events. But, this is the Olympics, and the pressure-cooker can crack anyone.
Elena Hight, USA
Hometown: South Lake Tahoe, California
Board team: Volcom
Olympic outlook: Elena Hight might be young, but she’s already a seasoned competitor and former Olympian (she placed sixth at Torino). She’s had the front 900 for, like, ever now, she stomped the first-ever women’s backside 900 two years ago winning an X Games bronze medal, and she’s currently looking for the back-to-back nine combo. However, she hasn’t wowed the judges sufficiently, landing on the podium only once during the GP series in second, perhaps in part because of a deficiency in the amplitude department when it comes to spin tricks. However … there’s no time like the present to up the ante!
Potential downfall: Elena’s obviously got the tricks (e.g., fives, sevens, and nines), but unless she can translate the lofty amplitude she gets on her straight airs over to her spin tricks, she might have a hard time landing herself on the Olympic podium.
Hannah Teter, USA
Hometown: Belmont, Vermont
Board team: Burton
Olympic outlook: As defending Olympic gold medalist, Hannah has the power and strength to win and has definitely savored success in the past. The niner is there, as well as fives and sevens. However, she has been somewhat absent in the past four years, battling some knee injuries, as well as taking a step back to do her own thing, including raising money for Darfur and other causes. She has a competitive drive and winning tricks-she podiumed at every stop of the Grand Prix qualifiers except the first, which she didn’t compete in (2nd, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd) but she never managed to outdo Kelly, and we’re wondering how she will fare against Torah.
Potential downfall: Consistency is only part of the winning equation, but it’s an important part. Also, the pressure involved with being a title defender can be a real bitch, mentally speaking.
Greg Bretz, USA
Age: 19 (December 19, 1990)
Hometown: Mammoth Lakes, California
Board team: Gnu
Recent results: Third and fourth place finishes in the Olympic Grand Prix qualifying series.
Olympic outlook: Greg Bretz inched himself into the upper ranks of the Grand Prix contest series this season. He went from two sixth place finishes to the third spot at the last Grand Prix. That, combined with another fourth place finish landed him a spot on the Olympic team. Bretz has at least one double cork spin in his repertoire and can chuck the twelve. Those two tricks, when combined, can be lethal. Bretz is young, ambitious and has breathed snowboarding since young, when his father, who worked lift maintenance at Mammoth, let him roam the mountain to hone his skills. He’ since boosted from nowhere to the Olympic team, so who’s to say he can boost onto the Olympic podium?
Potential downfalls: Bretz is relatively new to high profile events. He’s young and the bearing of big crowds and big pressure could cook him quick. He has shown a double cork in competition, but unless he unveils some technical combos or two doubles in one run, he faces stiff competition from the rest of the field.
Scotty Lago, USA
Age: 22 (November 12, 1987)
Hometown: Seabrook, New Hampshire
Board team: Flow
Recent results: A third and two second place finishes in the Grand Prix Olympic qualifying series.
Olympic outlook: Lago, the lone Frends crew competitor, sealed his Olympic bid at the final two stops of the Grand Prix series with two second-place finishes behind Shaun, possibly pushing Shaun on amplitude at the same time. An on again off again visitor to the pipe podium, he now has a super competitive run that’s he’s been putting down consistently including a huge method, a frontside double-cork, back to back nines, and most importantly for the judges, huge amounts of airtime. He has a back ten on the last hit that he hasn’t yet stuck in competition-is that enough to close that one point gap between him and Shaun White?
Potential downfalls: Lago kept it together in front of big crowds at the final Grand Prix stop, but he hasn’t performed in front of an Olympic caliber crowd-he just needs to keep his mind in the game and stay with his newfound consistency.
Louie Vito, USA
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Board team: O-Matic
Olympic outlook: Competing in the Winter Games might be a bit of a letdown after holding his own on Dancing With The Stars … but nevertheless, Olympic domination still seems to be locked into Louie’s crosshairs. He stomps back-to-back double cork 1080s on his first two hits-which is a bold move. His consistency in the Grand Prix series wavered a bit at the end, but maybe he was just getting those falls out of the way. At a mere 21 years old, Vito is consistent, experienced, and now has the bag of tricks to really compete at the top level.
Potential downfall: He’s obviously got the tricks, but does he have the airtime? Louie has been focusing on improving his amplitude lately-a factor that will either make or break him come Olympics.
Shaun White, USA
Hometown: Carlsbad, California
Board team: Burton
Olympic outlook: Shaun has shown himself to be unbeatable in more ways than the world thought possible. A born competitor, the Torino gold medalist doesn’t want to just go to the Olympics, he wants to the win them-again. In the competition arena, White is known for his flawless execution and otherworldly consistency-he won four of the five Olympic Grand Prix qualifiers. He exercises extreme determination and skill-honing the moves that put him ahead of the pack in a series of private pipe/foam-pit sessions-Project X-and he continues to innovate right down to the final Grand Prix in Park City. He goes huge, he locks back-to-back double-cork 1080s consistently and huge, and he recently added a double McTwist 1260. He has more tricks to be unleashed as needed. The two riders that have beat him in the last two years-Kevin Pearce at the 2009 European Open and Danny Davis at the first 2010 Mammoth Grand Prix-are both injured.
Potential downfall: Let’s face it-Shaun doesn’t like to lose, and heading into Vancouver as an Olympic title defender, the pressure on his shoulders will be unimaginably high, but that’s nothing new for Shaun and the ability to perform under pressure is part of what makes him great.