Farrington, Bright and Clark talk women’s halfpipe final

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Kaitlyn Farrington couldn’t believe that she had emerged as the new Olympic women’s snowboard halfpipe champion.

One wonders if many of those who observed Wednesday’s final felt the same way after the Idaho native narrowly won the gold over Vancouver halfpipe winner Torah Bright of Australia.

Farrington had posted the best semifinal score to advance into the main event and she had been considered a medal contender going into Sochi.

VIDEO: Meet Kaitlyn Farrington, America’s new sweetheart

But the prospect of beating all three former Olympic gold medalists in the final – Bright plus two of Farrington’s own teammates, Kelly Clark (2002) and Hannah Teter (2006) – seemed low.

Instead, Farrington sprang a surprise.

“I was hoping to make the finals, that was my main goal,” Farrington said afterwards. “And then during finals, I thought if I land a good run, I might be on the podium. So to come out on top–I just can’t believe it.

“I can’t believe I was sitting there in front of the last three gold medalists. It’s crazy. Snowboarding is changing so much. It’s anybody’s game on any day.”

VIDEO: How did they pull off their halfpipe tricks?

Bright was almost able to defend her crown despite a fall on her first run. Her second run earned her a strong 91.50, but that was just a quarter of a point shy of Farrington’s best, a 91.75 on her own second run.

“It was perhaps one of the hardest events I’ve ridden in, in a long time,” said Bright. “It was just really challenging. I’m just so happy the night’s over really and that I was able to put down a run.”

Then there was Clark, who showed the determination that’s made her the most decorated snowboarder in history.

On her first run, she had slammed onto the ledge of the pipe and then fell into it. That put the pressure firmly on her as she went out on the last run of the competition.

But the ’02 Salt Lake winner still went right for Farrington and Bright, breaking out a 1080 as part of a clean trip through.

VIDEO: Farrington a refreshing winner

It wasn’t enough for gold as the judges gave her a 90.75, but it allowed her to go past Teter and earn the bronze – her third Olympic medal in four tries.

“If I didn’t win, I’m glad someone from the U.S. did, because we’re going to get to see our flag raised and hear our national anthem,” Clark said.

All in all, a fun night at Rosa Khutor.

Ski jumping World Cup season kicks off in Poland

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The World Cup ski jump season opens Friday with men’s team and individual events in Wisla, Poland.

The host country had three of the top five jumpers in the overall standings last year. Defending champion Kamil Stoch placed third, Piotr Zyla was close behind in fourth, and Dawid Kubacki was fifth.

Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi dominated last year’s competition, finishing with 2,085 points to 1,349 for runner-up Stefan Kraft of Austria, the 2017 World Cup champion.

Kobayashi’s performance was a dramatic improvement over his previous season, when he finished no higher than sixth in any individual competition and was 24th overall. Last year, he had 15 wins and 23 podium finishes in 30 World Cup events, though he only managed fourth and 14th in the two world championship events.

The top American last season, Kevin Bickner, finished 51st overall, a drop from 39th the year before. He was 18th and 20th in the 2018 Olympic jumps.

Women’s World Cup action begins Dec. 6-8 in Lillehammer, Norway.

NBC Sports Gold will broadcast World Cup action throughout the season. This weekend, the qualifying jumps will air at noon ET Friday, the team event starts at 11:30 a.m. ET Saturday, and the individual competition is at 6 a.m. Sunday.

MORE: Full ski jumping broadcast schedule

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Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter dies at 65

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

It is virtually impossible to avoid the name “Burton” once the snow starts falling at any given mountain around the world these days. The name is plastered on the bottoms of snowboards, embroidered on jackets, stenciled into bindings.

At a bar in Pyeongchang, South Korea, not far from where snowboarding celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Olympics last year, there was a wall filled with Burton pictures and memorabilia — as sure a sign as any of the global reach of a company founded in his garage in Londonderry, Vermont.

The company sponsored pretty much every top rider at one time or another — from Shaun White to Kelly Clark to Chloe Kim.

Carpenter watched all his champions win their Olympic golds from near the finish line, never afraid to grind away in the mosh pit of snowboarders and snowboarding fans that he helped create.

In an interview in 2010, he said he was happy with how far his sport had come, and comfortable with where it was going.

“I had a vision there was a sport there, that it was more than just a sledding thing, which is all it was then,” Burton said. “We’re doing something that’s going to last here. It’s not like just hitting the lottery one day.”

Lacy said details about the celebration of Burton’s life would be coming soon but, for now, “I’d encourage everyone to do what Jake would be doing tomorrow, and that’s riding. It’s opening day at Stowe, so consider taking some turns together, in celebration of Jake.”

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