Kelly Clark

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Three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark to retire

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Kelly Clark’s dad once told her she could be anything she wanted to be.

When Clark said she wanted to be a professional snowboarder, he replied, “anything but that.”

Clark’s dad ultimately came around and watched his daughter become one of the sport’s most accomplished athletes, winning three Olympic medals and paving the way for others who would follow her. Clark, 35, announced her retirement plans Friday morning through Burton, her sponsor.

Born in Newport, Rhode Island, Clark grew up in West Dover, Vermont. Her father had her on skis at age two, and after some pestering, her mother bought Clark her first board when Clark was eight.

Ten years later, Clark was the youngest member of the U.S. snowboarding team at the 2002 Salt Lake Games. Despite a hard fall during practice that left her with a bruised tailbone and broken wrist, Clark scored a 47.9 out of 50 on her second run to win the first U.S. gold medal of the Salt Lake Games.

Clark fell short of a medal at the 2006 Torino Games after attempting a difficult trick, then won her second medal in Vancouver, a bronze. At the 2014 Sochi Games, her lead-up wasn’t ideal: Clark fell in all five runs in practice and in her first run in competition, but she successfully executed a 1080 in run two, which earned her a bronze medal. Clark later said, “I wouldn’t say it was my best snowboarding, [but] it’s probably one of my greatest achievements…it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding.”

In 2016, Clark suffered the first serious injury of her career, tearing her hamstring and the labrum in her hip at the X Games in Europe. After surgery, she was bedridden for a month, which left plenty of time for reflection. Clark adopted a golden retriever, started working on a book, and re-evaluated what she still wanted to accomplish on the pipe. Clark said later in 2016, “I guess a lot of people ask me, ‘what are you still doing here?’ If it was about winning things, I probably should have stopped a long time ago. I’m motivated by the potential that I have…I still feel like I’ve got some snowboarding to do that’s better than the snowboarding I’ve done.”

Clark missed a medal at her final Olympics, finishing fourth in PyeongChang. She watched one of the women she inspired win gold, just as she had done as a wide-eyed teenager in 2002. Years earlier, a pint-sized Chloe Kim tugged on Clark’s sleeve while waiting in line for the chairlift at Mammoth Mountain, asking if she could ride up with her. Clark obliged, and the two took a few runs together. The similarities between their snowboarding styles were easy to see: they shared an affinity for amplitude, speed, and a seemingly fearless approach to the pipe.

It’s safe to assume Clark won’t be taking it easy in retirement: she runs the Kelly Clark Foundation, which helps young snowboarders through scholarships and financial aid, and she’s launching a specialized women’s snowboard with Burton, her sponsor.

Clark’s career was full of milestones: she’s one of four snowboarders with three Olympic medals, the most of any athlete in the sport. She is one of only two American women to compete in five winter Olympics (along with cross-country skier Kikkan Randall), and she was the first female snowboarder to compete in five Games.

But Clark had more in mind for her legacy than contest results and podium finishes. Making the sport better – and inspiring the next generation – has always been her mission.

“There’s been a lot of women over the years that have progressed the sport, and I hope that I’ve been one of them,” she said in 2016. “To a place where there isn’t as big of a progression gap between men and women.”

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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MORE: Best snowboarding moments from PyeongChang Olympics

Chloe Kim leads U.S. sweep at X Games

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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Chloe Kim got the win, of course.

The other women on the Winter X Games halfpipe put on quite a show, too, and delivered a message: They’re not going to just hand Kim the gold medal 2 1/2 weeks from now at the PyeongChang Olympics.

The 17-year-old Olympic favorite delivered on a pressure-packed final run Saturday night, coming through with her patented back-to-back 1080 jumps (video here) to edge out Arielle Gold, who just moments earlier made it through a difficult run that she had never landed in competition.

Full results are here.

“I like being in a situation like that, if that makes any sense,” Kim said. “It makes me more hungry to land a run, and especially to land back-to-back 10s.'”

Maddie Mastro stomped her first 1080 in competition to rise to third place and also make clear that if Kim isn’t at her best in PyeongChang, she might be ready to take the gold, too. Video is here.

“It felt pretty crazy, pretty surreal,” Mastro said. “It happened so quickly. I didn’t know what was happening, I was in the air and then on my feet and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I landed it.'”

Yet another American Olympian, Kelly Clark, finished fourth and was not there for the dramatic third and final round after hitting the deck hard on her second run and checking out with a left knee injury.

Kim won her third Winter X gold medal with a score of 93.33, one point better than Gold, the 21-year-old who, four years ago in Sochi, was on her final training run when she skidded out, fell hard and separated her shoulder.

Gold briefly grabbed first place with a run that included a frontside 1080, a pair of 900-degree spins and one vault that took her 11 feet, 2 inches above the lip of the halfpipe. Video is here.

It applied a rare bit of pressure on Kim, who has been running away in contests as the only woman who can land the back-to-back 1080s.

“I like doing that,” Gold said. “I don’t think she feels it enough. We’re good buds. That’s what snowboarding is about, pushing each other to be the best.”

Kim had led after two rounds despite not landing the back-to-back 1080s either time.

But she saved the best for last. Her first jump out of the pipe was the night’s highest — 14 feet, 1 inch above the 22-foot wall — and then she completed the frontside 10-Cab 10 combo that had been bedeviling her all evening.

“Thanks to Arielle for putting me in that situation where I wanted to do it more than ever,” Kim said. “But more importantly, I’m so happy for her. I almost cried tears of joy when she landed. I was so stoked for her, just watching her work so hard and it paying off.”

If it was a preview of what’s to come at the Olympics, then the final there, on Feb. 13, will be must-see viewing.

“I think everyone is just progressing so quick and so fast,” Mastro said. “Anything can happen.”

Earlier Saturday, Olympian Maggie Voisin became the first American woman to win an X Games ski slopestyle title.

She beat a field that included fellow Olympic medal contenders Tess Ledeux of France and Johanne Killi of Norway.

Full results are here.

Norway’s Marcus Kleveland won men’s snowboard slopestyle, while Austrian Anna Gasser took women’s snowboard big air.

American Jamie Anderson was third in the latter, earning her 15th X Games medal to break her tied with Clark for the female record.

X Games concludes Sunday, highlighted by the men’s snowboard halfpipe final.

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