United States women dominate Olympic halfpipe
BARDONECCHIA, Italy – The last thing Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler did before winning their Olympic gold and silver medals was cut a rope and make some powder turns.
Teter, a 19-year-old Vermont native who now resides in Meyers, becomes the first South Shore resident to win an Olympic medal. Round Hill’s Elena Hight, 16, who learned to snowboard on Lake Tahoe slopes, finished sixth. She is the team’s youngest snowboarder.
The previous best finish from a South Shore Olympian was by Jonna Mendes, who was 11th in the Olympic downhill in 2002.
With her bronze medal-winning run, Norwegian Kjersti Buaas prevented an American sweep of the women’s Olympic halfpipe podium on Monday.
Kelly Clark, 2002 Olympic gold medalist, led the U.S. Team in qualifications, followed by Bleiler and Teter in second and third, respectively.
Then Teter stood at the top of the pipe for her final run, danced around and dropped into the pipe. She threw a frontside 540, sailed far above the pipe in a backside air, delivered her frontside 900, followed by a frontside 360 and 540.
“Coming in today, I could feel it, being caught up with energy and wrapped up in the whole scene here,” Teter said afterward.
While Bleiler came down the pipe and opened her run with a big Crippler (back flip with 540 spin), and went from a backside 540 to a frontside 5, put down a big frontside air and finished off with a 900, she landed a score of 41.5, the second behind Teter’s 44.6.
It was then Clark’s turn and she fell short despite her high-amplitude run, reaching the third position with 40.9 points.
That pesky Norwegian
In the final run, as many in the field fell attempting to put down their best and biggest, Norwegian Kjersti Buaas stepped in and threw down a 41.1-point run. Bumped into fourth place in the 2002 Games, Buaas linked a big frontside air with a double grab and wrapped up her run with an inverted 720.
When Clark’s turn came up, she yielded the loudest “Wows” from the crowd, going almost twice as high off the pipe walls as any other competitor, then put down a huge 900, but lost her balance and touched down – exchanging what she felt would have been a gold-medal run for fourth place.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” Buaas said of her bronze. As to preventing an American podium sweep she said, “Somebody told me I was the last chance to split up the Americans,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh no. All of Europe is depending on me.'”
When Teter’s turn came again, the gold medal was already hers. She was faced with the same victory lap as Shaun White when he took gold in the men’s halfpipe on Sunday.
“I just wanted to go as big as possible,” said Teter, who upstaged her previous run with a best score of 46.4 points during her victory lap. “I just wanted to step it up. It was like, U.S., represent.”
Bleiler less relaxed than she looked
About a half hour before the pipe finals began, Teter and Bleiler decided to ride to the top of the mountain on the chairlift, only to discover it was closed.
“But we saw a rope, and … sorry, but we cut it and found some powder,” Bleiler said.
“We were like, ‘Yeah. This is what snowboarding is all about.'”
This served to calm down the pair. When Bleiler dropped into her runs, she pointed to the crowd, waved both hands eliciting applause, threw her Crippler, punched the air with both hands in apparent elation before going up the wall into her next hit, and appeared to be having nothing but fun. Later she said this was a convincing mask to her firing nerves.
“I must be a good actress, because I was a mess today,” she said. “I’ve been screaming uncontrollably for the last three days. I get so nervous, especially for this event. I was telling my coach, ‘I don’t want to care this much.'”
But Bleiler and Teter cared about a successful trip to the Olympics so much that they both pulled out of the Winter X Games in Aspen at the last minute in the last week of January to rest up and be healthy for the Games.
Bleiler, who was the X Games 2005 halfpipe champion, lives across the street from the X Games halfpipe in Aspen. Kelly Clark went on to take the 2006 X Games gold, and Bleiler said pulling out was a tough decision – but one that obviously paid off.
“The X Games has helped snowboarding enormously and gotten us to where we are today,” she said. “The Olympics is definitely trying to tap into what the X Games have. The X Games is the biggest even in snowboarding. I had every intention of competing, but I had to listen to my body. Medaling at the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl.”
Don’t ever change
Teter, who at 19 has largely bypassed two of her four brothers – Abe and Elijah who also live in Meyers – in snowboarding success, rides at Sierra-at-Tahoe when she has free time. She is also the first woman to have landed a 900 in competition, and said that perhaps she’ll put her Olympic medal in her tree house in Vermont, where all of her other medals are kept.
“Maybe now I can purchase a boat,” she said, jokingly speculating on her success.
Still, she said, an Olympic gold medal isn’t likely to alter her personality.
“I’ll still be grateful,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to change. Maybe I’ll smile a little brighter. Maybe I’ll get my teeth whitened.”
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