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Torah Bright eyes fourth Olympics in 2018

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Torah Bright has only competed once in the last two and a half years, but the Australian Olympic snowboard champion acknowledged on Thursday that she does plan to compete in the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Bright gave the word of approval on an Australian TV morning show (video here).

Bright is arguably the greatest Australian Winter Olympian, winning halfpipe gold in 2010 and silver in 2014. She competed in three snowboarding events in Sochi — halfpipe, slopestyle (seventh) and snowboard cross (18th).

Come February, Bright will be older than any previous Olympic halfpipe medalist.

“Let’s just say I will not be doing three events again,” she said in August 2015, according to the Australia Olympic Committee. “Maybe two. Halfpipe and slopestyle are essentially the same thing if you are riding. They help each other.”

Bright’s only contest in the last two and a half years was the Laax Open in January 2016. She finished second in halfpipe behind U.S. Olympian Arielle Gold. The world’s best riders, Kelly Clark and Chloe Kim, were not at that event.

Bright last competed at the Winter X Games in 2015.

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MORE: Kelly Clark hopes to add more Olympic bib to historic wall

Kelly Clark hopes to add one more Olympic bib to historic wall

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Kelly Clark, a pro snowboarder for the last 17 years with three Olympic medals, likes to save her halfpipe competition bibs. All of them.

More than 200 bibs are stuffed into boxes upon boxes in the garage of her Folsom, Calif., home.

“I like to think there’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding,” she said, smiling.

Four of Clark’s favorite bibs are not in boxes. They are framed, hanging on a TV room wall next to three wooden snowboards (one signed in pencil by Jake Burtonand a Snurfer.

It’s clear upon view. They are Clark’s bibs from her four Olympics, spelled out on the front — “Salt Lake City 2002,” “Torino 2006,” “Vancouver 2010” and “Sochi 2014.”

One day in the last year, some friends visited Clark’s home. They scanned the bib wall and noticed an empty space.

“Hey, you’ve got one more open spot for one more bib,” Clark recalled one of them saying.

“I didn’t plan it that way,” Clark continued, “but when I looked, I actually have one more spot that one more Olympic bib could find a home.”

There’s little doubt Clark will pack a “PyeongChang 2018” bib and fly it home to Folsom next year. The 33-year-old is on track to become the first U.S. snowboarder to compete in five Olympics.

Which is incredible, given Clark relearned how to walk last spring.

She tore her hamstring and hip labrum on her left side, underrotating a 1080 in practice at Winter X Games Oslo in February 2016. Her first serious injury.

Clark later found it to be the biggest obstacle of her career. It overtook her fourth-place finish at the 2006 Winter Olympics, the only time she has missed the podium at a Winter Games.

After surgery, Clark’s feet were bound together for a month. She watched “Friends” episodes in bed.

Clark was off snow for seven months. She got Iris, a golden retriever puppy. Iris faithfully stayed at Clark’s side for endless hours of physical therapy. Clark taught her how to swim.

In October, Clark got back on a chair lift in New Zealand. She shared the ride with Shaun White and his coach, 2002 Olympic bronze medalist J.J. Thomas.

The men had no idea that Clark was having “an inner crisis,” doubting whether her hip would hold up when she got off the lift. She let White and Thomas disembark first.

“Intimidating,” she said. “Got my feet back underneath me.”

Then came Feb. 5, 2017, one of the best days of Clark’s life. In her first contest back, she won the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

Fearing poor weather might close the roads that evening, Clark quickly hopped in a car after the awards. She drove 100 miles north to Topaz, a community on the California-Nevada border.

Wearing a New England Patriots jersey, the Vermont native walked into a casino steakhouse bar, sat and watched the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Two weeks after that, Clark won the Olympic halfpipe test event in PyeongChang.

“I really just had some moments where I stepped back, and I just couldn’t believe that I still get to do this,” Clark said of last season. “I couldn’t believe that I was, you know, 33 years old, winning an Olympic test event. Like, I wouldn’t have dreamt that I’d be able to do that in my wildest dreams. It was more emotional than I had anticipated, the moment for me. It was kind of a benchmark, as well, where, post-hip surgery, I was back.”

Clark has memories associated with every Olympic halfpipe event. When snowboarding debuted at Nagano 1998, Clark recorded the TV coverage on VHS so she could watch it after school days.

In 2002, Clark rallied to make her first Olympic team and became the youngest Olympic snowboarding champion at age 18. A record she still holds.

After that 2006 failure, Clark broke the record as the oldest Olympic halfpipe medalist by taking bronze in 2010. In 2014, she tearfully broke it again. Clark landed the last run of the entire competition for bronze after falling in all five practice runs and on her first run of the final on a slushy pipe.

“My Sochi medal is, by far, my favorite Olympic experience,” Clark said. “You know, that day wasn’t my best snowboarding. But what I personally overcame that day to stand up on the Olympic podium, 12 years after I first stood up there, that was probably the greatest victory of my career.”

Clark was miffed that night when, before she could take her boots off, people started asking her about retirement.

“I kept getting this question, are you finally done?” said Clark, who had won every X Games title in the Sochi Olympic cycle. “That’s a weird way to phrase it. I got asked it enough that I had to really kind of evaluate that.”

Clark decided that she was competing not for victories but for love of the sport. As long as she’s still learning, she’ll keep entering contests.

Despite her success this past winter, Clark had not regained all of her strength. She’s eager to see what’s possible next season with a full prep period.

Who’s to say Clark can’t reset the age record a third time in PyeongChang at 34 years old?

The Vermont native jokes that she’s been snowboarding since before it was considered cool. Twice in 2016, she shared a podium with two girls whose ages didn’t add up to her own.

At home, Clark has boxes of bibs and wooden snowboards older than her new batch of rivals. She doesn’t mind being reminded of that.

“When people come over and they look at them,” Clark said, “it kind of brings back the memories for me, too.”

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MORE: No private pipe for Shaun White for 2018 Olympics

Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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