Elena Hight

Kelly Clark qualifies for Olympics, as does rider half her age

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On the night Kelly Clark qualified for a record fifth Olympics, a woman half her age made her first team.

Clark, the most decorated female halfpipe rider with three Olympic medals and more than 70 career wins, notched another victory in the fourth and final qualifier Saturday night.

Maddie Mastro, who was born after Clark made her X Games debut in 2000, finished third in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

They join the previously qualified Olympic favorite Chloe Kim (also born in 2000) as the three U.S. women to grab automatic berths for PyeongChang. The three automatic men’s qualifiers were decided last week, headlined by Shaun White.

A fourth rider is expected to be added for each gender, selected by a committee next week. The fourth man should be Chase Josey, who won Saturday night.

That fourth woman will likely be Sochi Olympian Arielle Gold. If that’s the case, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter will miss the Olympics.

As would reigning X Games champion Elena Hight, a testament to the depth of U.S. women’s snowboarding.

The U.S. has a shot to sweep the Olympic halfpipe podium, with the top rivals coming from China and Spain.

Clark’s fifth and perhaps final Olympics (most for a female snowboarder) could bookend an incredible career.

In 2002, she became the youngest Olympic snowboarding champion at age 18. Next month, she can become the oldest Olympic snowboarding medalist.

In between, she also took bronze in 2010 and 2014 and won 10 X Games medals, including five golds.

Clark accomplished something new in this Olympic cycle — returning from her first major injury.

The Vermont native tore her left hamstring and hip labrum in February 2016, underrotating a 1080 in practice. After surgery, her feet were bound together for a month.

Clark 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.

She got Iris, a golden retriever puppy. Iris faithfully stayed at Clark’s side for endless hours of physical therapy.

In one of her first contests back last February, Clark won the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth, which is now her home mountain. It was the same day her New England Patriots won the Super Bowl with their own comeback.

Mastro, a 17-year-old from Southern California, could be called the most improved U.S. female halfpipe rider in the last year.

She finished seventh at X Games in 2016 and 2017, but then was third at the U.S. Open in March.

This season, she placed second, fourth and third at the first three Olympic qualifiers to move into position to clinch Saturday night.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Snowboard Halfpipe 
(through three of four events)
Three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Shaun White — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)

1. Jake Pates — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
4. Chase Josey — 1,500* (1st and 4th)
5. Gabe Ferguson — 1,300* (2nd and 4th)

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Kelly Clark — 1,800* QUALIFIED

3. Maddie Mastro — 1,600* QUALIFIED
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100* (3rd and 4th)
5. Hannah Teter — 900 (5th and 5th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result against whole field.

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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics

Elena Hight wins her first X Games gold medal

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Elena Hight has been a mainstay on the Winter X Games circuit, collecting three silver medals and two bronze medals since making her debut at just 13 years old in 2003.

14 years later, she finally won her first gold medal in the women’s snowboard halfpipe final Saturday night in Aspen, Colo.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Hight said, shaking her head.

China’s Xeutong Cai finished second, followed by American Chloe Kim.

Kim entered as the pre-race favorite, having not lost on the halfpipe in over a year. But the 16-year-old fell early in her first run, just moments after competition was interrupted for about 10 minutes when half of the course’s floodlights shut off. Television commentators described her second and final run as “probably the tamest run we have ever seen from Chloe in an X Games.”

It was the first time that Kim, who was too young to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics, failed to win a gold medal in her four X Games starts.

Earlier on Saturday, 19-year-old American Julia Marino claimed the women’s snowboard slopestyle gold medal. She became the first X Games rookie since 2000 to win two medals, after earning the snowboard big air bronze medal on Thursday.

“I don’t think I could ask for a better contest,” Marino said.

Marino bested fellow American Jamie Anderson, the 2014 Olympic champion and most decorated rider in X Games slopestyle history with 12 medals. Great Britain’s Katie Ormerod finished third.

Americans swept the men’s ski slopestyle podium at the Sochi Games, where the event was making its Olympic debut. But it was McRae Williams, after not even making the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, who stood on the podium in Aspen.

Williams earned the silver medal, behind Norway’s Oystein Braaten and ahead of Canada’s Alex Beaulieu-Marchand.

Braaten wiped out on his first run, scoring 8.66 points, the lowest of the 12 skiers in the finals. But the winner was determined based on a skier’s best score in either of the two final runs, and Braaten responded with a score of 94.33 points on his second run.

“I was so scared after my first run because I messed up a trick I’ve been landing all week,” Braaten admitted.

2014 Olympic champion Joss Christensen finished sixth, while 2014 Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy was 10th and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Nick Goepper was 11th. Goepper, who won gold at every X Games from 2013-2015, is the only skier with multiple wins in the event at the last 14 X Games.

Kenworthy was competing less than 15 hours after finishing 10th in the ski halfpipe final.

MORE: Aaron Blunck wins surprise gold in crash-filled ski halfpipe