Idahoan Farrington edges Bright for women’s half-pipe gold
February 12, 2014
Krasnaya Polyana, Russia — It was one of those Olympic-style pauses. Two minutes. Three minutes. To the four women sitting on the bench at the bottom of the half-pipe, it felt even longer.
In the end, the cowgirl won the gold.
Kaitlyn Farrington, the 24-year-old from Idaho whose parents sold off their cattle to bankroll her career, sparked the second upset on the half-pipe in two nights. She smoothed out a near-flawless run Wednesday to edge Aussie Torah Bright and take down the American favorite, Kelly Clark.
“I’m sure they do not miss those cows today,” Farrington said of her folks.
The running joke in her family comes when her parents tell her to “Cowgirl Up,” and throughout a long day that included six runs — two each in qualifying, semifinals and finals — Farrington did just that.
The winning run earned a score of 91.75. It included one of the tougher combinations in the sport — a double-twisting jump with a near-blind landing, followed by a 2 1/2-spin jump. It closed with a twisting, head-over-heels flip at the bottom. Superb, though certainly beatable by three of the women still at the top for Run 2, all of whom had Olympic gold medals back home.
Hannah Teter, the 2006 champion who wound up fourth, couldn’t do it. Neither could Bright, who ended up .25 points from her second straight gold, but she viewed this as nothing less than a victory considering she’s competing in three events — slope-style, half-pipe and, next, snowboard-cross.
Then came Clark. She’s been the most consistent, best-prepared rider throughout the past four years, a favorite to win another gold 12 years after she burst onto the scene with her first Olympic title in Salt Lake City.
But her evening went down in much the same manner as Shaun White’s did 24 hours earlier.
Like White, Clark had a first run that included a nasty fall; her board careened off the lip of the pipe, bending hard when it hit, then sending her free-falling to her back, 20 feet below.
“I work hard in the offseason to be able to get up from that,” Clark said.
She did. But, also like White, she had a second run that included a mistake on her signature trick. White couldn’t land the four-rotation “Yolo” jump. Clark couldn’t quite master a 1080-degree spin that only she attempts. Her spin really went about 1040 degrees, and she traveled too far down the halfpipe while doing it.
And so, the real drama came while the judges added things up, knowing they had three Olympic gold medalists sitting on that bench — and deciding if they should make it four.
Farrington, a natural-born dancer, sat there and shook her shoulders. Bright patted her good friend Clark on the thigh.
Teter, who also won silver in 2010 and would’ve completed a full set with a bronze, sort of knew where things were going to end up.
“I love it when they play it out like that,” she said. “I was hoping they wouldn’t give it to her. But whatever. She did a 1080. That’s why they gave it to her.”
The bronze, that is.
Clark insisted she wasn’t disappointed. This bronze goes with the one she took in Vancouver under very similar circumstances — falling on the first run and making it through less than perfectly on the second.
“I had a less-than-ideal practice. I fell every run,” she said, a nod to a frequently changing half-pipe that nobody really mastered. “Not just falls, but pretty epic falls. To come back, it was a huge accomplishment to get on the podium today.”
Farrington had at least one thing in common with the men’s winner, Iouri Podladtchikov: Neither rider made it straight to the final by finishing in the top three during the qualifying round. That meant both had to compete in semifinals. That gave them both two extra chances to feel the changing bumps on the half-pipe.
“I told Kelly yesterday that I planned on riding all day,” Farrington said. “So, the semis were like extra practice for me. I kind of felt more comfortable in the pipe.”
Still, she conceded, “I don’t think I knew I was going to come here and get a gold medal. I still don’t really believe it.”
It provided a much-needed dose of good news for the Americans, who came into the Sochi Games having won 14 of the 24 halfpipe medals in Olympic history but went a shocking 0 for 3 in the men’s contest. Going 2 for 3 in the women’s event was more like it — even if the order might have turned some heads.
“A loose cannon,” is how Teter described Farrington. “But when she’s on, she’s really on. She styles for days. She looks good. Very clean. Judges like that.”