Olympic Women’s Halfpipe

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Hannah Teter Superstar: US Women Claim HP Gold and Silver
Monday, February 13, 2006

Though the buzz surrounding another US men’s halfpipe sweep remained steady until the very final moments of yesterday’s competition, predictions of total domination by the US women have been at a loud, steady and seemingly unstoppable rumble all winter.

Kelly Clark, the fantastically conditioned work horse, has proven she means business in ’06, sticking out a win at X Games while her fellow countrywomen chose to withdraw and rest up for Torino. Gretchen Bleiler has been consistent, progressive and almost entirely unbeatable since coming back from a knee injury in ’04. Not to be discounted in any context is the wild energy of hyper, faithful Hannah Teter — who regularly soars heads above her competition when under pressure. Youngster Elena Hight should be credited with pushing the rest of the field to add stylish 9’s to their repertoire of winning tricks.

It could have been any US lady’s gold, silver and maybe even bronze in Italy, though Clark and Bleiler were the clear favorites this time around. Their only strong international competition came from the sassy Aussie, Torah Bright, the seasoned and decorated French veteran, Doriane Vidal, and Norwegian killer, Kjersti Buaas.

Sidenote: I know you’re here for the women’s scoop, but without even seeing the finals, how about knowing the ins and outs hours before they went down on NBC? 2006 is the year technology changed the face of Olympic broadcasting forever. Unable to make it over to Torino (or even your TV or computer)? Have the medal alerts SMSed to your cell the instant they are claimed. Interested in the drama of the games as it unfolds by the minute? Check your RSS aggregator, dawg. Hit up your regular bookmarks on a lazy Sunday or Monday morning, and you’ve likely spoiled a golden surprise for yourself 10 hours before the semi finals hit the big screen. I certainly did!

From the blogosphere and beyond, spin to win 10’s were expected to podium for the men, and the women weren’t far behind them, regularly pulling stylish, grabbed 9’s in competition these days. Today’s female pipe riders are performing leaps and bounds above the standards of even two years back. We mainly have our lady Olympians to thank for that.

As for how they fared tonight: Kelly Clark cruised her way through the semifinals, easily landing a decent run right off the bat, followed by Bleiler and Teter, who threw strong though conservative safety laps to advance. Torah Bright and Doriane Vidal made their way to the big show, along with Dutch freestyle ripper, Cheryl Maas, USA’s Elena Height and Swiss Miss Manuela Pesko. Japanese riders Yamaoka, Nakashima and Fushima joined a strong women’s field in the race for gold.

I’m not sure the judges had time to calibrate their minds before the women rightfully stepped it up in the finals; they were instantly wowed by a solid, though slightly sketchy, run from Teter that remained a golden benchmark throughout the event. Women’s USA was looking good to one up the men’s performance from the night before.

As predicted, Bleiler was almost unbeatable and proved it with a stylish, technical effort that earned her a silver medal. Going into round two, the US women seemed primed to pull off a sweep, especially when they held off a gutsy effort by Torah Bright, who consistently threw down the most technical combos of the contest. Only Kjersti Buaas, with her amplitude, flow and crippler 7, was able to upset the US spirit by riding her way to a bronze in her second run. In the end, Kelly Clark was unable to pull off the explosive winning formula she had dialed and landed all week, washing out on her final 9 and finishing an honorable, though personally disappointing, fourth overall. We will undoubtedly see great things to come from Elena Hight, who finished sixth this time around.

The booby trap was set early in the finals as gold fell through the hands of all but the top of five legitimate contenders. At Bardonecchia, Hannah claimed it after sticking her first run. Above all else, these Olympics have shown the huge potential of women’s halfpipe riding in general. I know I’m not alone in looking forward to what these female standouts will be throwing down for the remainder of the season and beyond. Well played, lady pipeheads. See you at Stratton.