KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Kaitlyn Farrington restored a little bit of luster to Team USA’s Winter Olympics today, taking back U.S. supremacy on the halfpipe that Shaun White and friends lost the night before.
Farrington edged defending champion Torah Bright of Australia and American teammate Kelly Clark to win gold in the final at an almost tropical Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Farrington posted a score of 91.75 during her second run, just good enough to beat Bright’s 91.50.
Clark, who smacked the wall during her first run of the finals, recovered to earn bronze and win her third Olympic medal.
“I fought to get in finals,” Farrington said. “I did all three rounds. To come out on top, I couldn’t believe it.”
Farrington, who grew up in Idaho and now lives in Salt Lake City, had spent most of the run-up to the games playing second-fiddle to Clark, the 2002 Olympic champion. The 24-year-old had to navigate the semifinals to reach the medal round before responding brilliantly to edge two of the sport’s greats.
On a halfpipe looking more like a bowl of mashed potatoes than the icy track necessary to put on a top-notch show, Farrington survived. She was second behind teammate Hannah Teter after the first round of finals, then put together her finest work of the day to top the leaderboard. Farrington connected a backward 720-degree (2 turn) spin with a backward 900-degree (2½ turn) spin, one of the most technically demanding sequences of the night.
There were hugs all around when she finished and her score flashed, though she was forced to watch two of the sport’s best riders take one final run to try and win their second Olympic gold.
Bright, who has rarely competed the halfpipe since winning gold in Vancouver to focus on other events, put together a more athletic run but also bobbled ever so slightly during one transition between jumps.
The 27-year-old — who competed in women’s slopestyle snowboarding over the weekend and will race in snowboardcross on Sunday — danced while she waited for her score and hardly seemed bothered when it came up just a quarter-point short of Farrington.
“It doesn’t really matter the color of the medal,” Bright said. “We’re here, united, we’re shredding babes.”
That left Clark, who fell six times during practice before going down once in qualifying and again during her first run of the finals. She was about halfway through her routine when her back slammed into the edge of the pipe.
She somewhat gingerly finished, but it put all the pressure on her as she stood atop the hill for her second run.
Clark is easily the most physically gifted rider in the world, with an ability unparalleled among women riders to get the speed and air time necessary to pull of the most dangerous tricks. Like Bright, her final run was clean save for a split-second case of the wobbles.
She sat next to Farrington as the judges deliberated. As the moment dragged on, the friends got by with nervous chatter.
When Clark’s 90.75 was posted, Farrington lifted her arms into the air in celebration while all three of the medalists danced.
“I had less than ideal practice,” Clark said. “Not just little falls, pretty epic falls. To come back, it was a huge accomplishment to get on the podium today.”
Clark and Farrington’s home country, meanwhile, surely breathed a small sign of relief.
The victory gave the U.S. just its third gold medal of the games, all of them coming on a snowboard. Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson triumphed in men’s and women’s slopestyle snowboarding over the weekend. The Americans missed out on a chance for another medal when a star-laden men’s halfpipe roster failed to reach the podium Tuesday night, including two-time gold medalist Shaun White.
The gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world on the women’s side, however, remains significant. Only Bright prevented a podium sweep by the Americans as Teter, who won gold in 2006 and took silver in 2010, placed fourth.
During the flower ceremony, it occurred to Clark that she, Bright and Farrington have more than just their love of snowboarding in common.
“We’re the gold medal club,’” Clark said. “We’ve all got one of these now. Well done, ladies.’”