Steamboat Springs The actual moment is surreal. Arielle Gold, the Steamboat Springs snowboarder who exploded a year ago onto the world’s half-pipe scene, said actually being named to the Olympic team isn’t the explosion of emotion one might expect.
“I don’t think it’s set in yet,” she said Sunday, hours after becoming the third Steamboat Springs athlete to officially secure a spot.
“I’m excited, but I don’t think it’s really set in yet,” she added. “I’m still a little bit in shock.”
She didn't quite punch her ticket with an exclamation point, but in the end, that didn’t much matter after the weekend, which featured the final three of five U.S. Olympic Team qualification events.
She didn’t post top results in any of those competitions but was good enough in the first two to ensure herself a spot. She had second- and third-place finishes in those December events, and — ranking athletes based on their top two results — that was enough to place her third overall. It earned her an automatic bid to the 2014 Winter Olympics, which begin next month in Sochi, Russia.
She is joined on the team by Kelly Clark and Kaitlyn Farrington, the two other automatic qualifiers. Hannah Teter, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist and 2010 silver medalist, was added as a discretionary pick, completing the team. Gretchen Bleiler and Elena Hight, both two-time Olympians, were left off the team.
“We’ve got a really good team going,” Gold said. “It’s hard for the other girls because there are so many of us and we all deserve to go. It’s hard to just take a few. We’ve got an awesome team. No matter how it would have turned out, it would have been a good team.”
Farrington did the most Sunday to make the team. In need of a big result, she delivered, winning the final half-pipe competition at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. Kelly Clark, who won three of the five events, placed second, and Teter helped ensure her spot with a third-place finish.
Gold was fifth, registering a result that didn’t improve upon her results from the previous contests. That followed up fourth- and eighth-place finishes in the three California contests.
“Although they didn’t go quite as well as the first two, I was still really happy with the way I was riding,” she said.
The bid to the Olympics caps a fabulous 12 months for Gold, who was a nonfactor in the elite snowboarding world until she won the half-pipe World Championships a year ago. She followed that up with a third-place podium spot at the X Games, and she’s never looked back, entrenching herself at the very top of the spot.
How far has she come? She wasn’t even actually invited to last year’s X Games, only being given a spot when another rider went down with an injury. Now, she’ll ride in the X Games this week as a prelude to her trip to Russia, where she’ll travel as one of the favorites to win an Olympic medal.
“I feel great now that it’s all over,” she said. “It’s been a little stressful. I’m glad to know I’m going, and I’m excited to head to the X Games and have some fun there, then go on to Russia.”
Gold’s punching the ticket just makes a great week even better for Steamboat’s Gold family. Brother Taylor, three years Arielle’s senior, made the Olympic team in half-pipe snowboarding Friday. He was joined on the U.S. team Sunday by two-time gold medalist Shaun White, 2010 Olympian Greg Bretz and Danny Davis, who came on strong this week to earn his spot.
A year ago, it didn’t seem possible the Golds would have any reason to visit Russia. Now, they’ll go supporting two of America’s top snowboarders, athletes living the dream.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Arielle said. “We’ve been training together for years. I’ve seen firsthand how much work he has put in. He knows that’s the same for me, so it’s pretty cool to see our hard work pay off. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Ladley misses on Olympic hopes
Sunday did represent the end of Olympic hopes for one Steamboat snowboarder. Matt Ladley bolstered his hopes Friday with a third-place finish but couldn't build upon that in Sunday’s contest. Ladley crashed on his first run in the men’s snowboarding half-pipe event and didn’t take a second run.
Maddy Schaffrick, officially eliminated from the Olympics race Friday, was 10th in the women’s event.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9
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