Kelly Clark to end season at Burton U.S. Open, then evaluate

Kelly Clark
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Kelly Clark said “there’s a chance” that Saturday’s Burton U.S. Open halfpipe final will be the last contest of her unmatched snowboarding career.

“But I think I’ve got a lot of time ahead of me just to kind of evaluate how I’m doing and what else I have left to accomplish,” the five-time U.S. Olympian said in a phone interview Thursday after qualifying for the six-rider final. “I think it’ll really come down to that. I don’t know much more at this time.”

What is left to accomplish? Clark owns three Olympic medals and finished fourth in two other Olympics, including in PyeongChang, when her practice time was curtailed due to injury.

She owns 14 X Games halfpipe medals, including seven golds, and seven U.S. Open wins among more than 70 contest victories, most by a rider of either gender.

“If it was about accomplishing things, I’ve had one of the most incredible snowboarding careers anyone could ever hope to have,” she continued. “I’ve probably won and lost every event in snowboarding, but it would come down to if I’m done progressing my riding. I think that’ll be a big determiner about when I decide to call it quits. If I’m done learning stuff. If I’m done being challenged. If I’m done progressing. That’ll be when I start to evaluate if it’s time to hang it up.”

The U.S. Open, where the 34-year-old Clark has competed for nearly two decades and attended since she was 10 or 11 years old, is the traditional season-ending event.

“I was a fan long before I was ever an athlete,” said Clark, who grew up nine miles from where the U.S. Open was formerly held in Stratton, Vt., and sought autographs from the riders she read about in magazines or saw on posters.

Clark, like many riders she’s talked to this week, had not strapped on a snowboard since the Feb. 13 Sochi final before arriving in Vail, Colo.

“The Olympics is such a journey. It’s not just one event. It ends up, inevitably, being four years,” she said. “So I was really looking forward to coming to the Open because I felt like it would just be good to get back on the board, get back in a contest and just get back to normal.”

Clark eeked into the final in the sixth and last spot, landing a pair of 720s in her best qualifying run. She plans to throw a 1080 in the three-run final, facing a field that includes Olympic champion Chloe Kim.

Clark beat Kim, who is half her age, at the fourth and final U.S. Olympic qualifier in January. A week later, Clark suffered a bruised tibia and a fracture on the top of that bone in an X Games crash. That was two weeks before her Olympic competition.

“It was quite a journey just trying to see what I would be able to do at the Olympics, what that would look like,” said Clark, who came back last season from left hamstring and hip labrum tears. “I have the best medical staff anyone could ever hope for, and we made a really good plan to get me through that event. Not only just to get me through the event, but to do it really well. I would have enjoyed more practice … but I can honestly say during the event it didn’t affect my performance.”

Clark said she’s still not fully healed, but the injury was not serious enough for surgery to ever be an option. She will compete Saturday, then head home, where her garden needs work, for a restorative offseason.

“My dog will be a lot happier,” she joked.

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