Olympian Hight recognized by HeavenlyPhoto:6176570,left; | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Olympian Hight recognized by HeavenlyPhoto:6176570,left;

With the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, being held next Friday, 16-year-old Elena Hight got one final sendoff from her closest friends on Thursday at Heavenly Mountain Resort.

Hight, who earned a spot on the women’s halfpipe team, was presented with an honorary medal by the Heavenly Ski and Snowboard Foundation.

“It was important because we just wanted to let her know that the community is behind her and we wish her the best of luck,” said Heavenly head snowboarding coach Ed McClain, who coached Hight while she was growing up in Zephyr Cove. “I’m not going to lie, it’s a huge thing for the Heavenly Snowboard Team.

“But the main thing is it’s a huge accomplishment for Elena. It’s always been my coaching philosophy to create champions. And Elena is certainly that.”

With five podiums in five U.S. Grand Prix halfpipe events this season, Hight is a medal contender for the United States in Italy. Hight, who is now sponsored by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, still rides at Heavenly whenever she isn’t traveling and is back on South Shore.

More than a dozen friends, coaches and family members attended Hight’s ceremony, including pro snowboarder Shaun Palmer, who would’ve joined Hight in Torino but tore his Achilles tendon in a boardercross race last month.

“It was awesome,” said Hight, who will leave for Italy on Saturday. “I got to see my coaches who I grew up with and friends I’ve rode with at Heavenly since I was 8. I’m just really excited for everything and the opportunity to go.

“(The Olympics) haven’t really kicked in yet. I’m sure it will hit me at the opening ceremonies.”

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