SI Vault
 
Good 'n' Ugly
AUSTIN MURPHY
February 23, 2009
With a year to go before the Vancouver Games, halfpiper extraordinaire Shaun White and his fellow riders put on a show at Cypress Mountain, despite a slew of glitches at the Olympic venue
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 23, 2009

Good 'n' Ugly

With a year to go before the Vancouver Games, halfpiper extraordinaire Shaun White and his fellow riders put on a show at Cypress Mountain, despite a slew of glitches at the Olympic venue

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4

Eleven riders still had a crack at him. The judges had yet to render his score. (It would be the day's highest: 47.3 of a possible 50.) But the moment White stuck his landing, a thousand or so spectators had the same thought: He just won this thing.

The victory was the fourth in six events (including the X Games) this winter for the 22-year-old White, who has again made himself the Olympic favorite. "Shaun's been killing it for quite a few years now," says Canadian Brad (B-Rad) Martin, who was seventh at Cypress. "It just seems that whenever we start to get closer, he ups the ante."

Only slightly less dominant this season has been U.S. teammate Kelly Clark, 25, the low-key, high-flying Vermonter who took first in the women's halfpipe at Cypress. Recall that after winning gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, Clark needed just an average (for her) final run to be assured of a medal in Turin. Instead, she doubled down and tried a frontside 900 that she couldn't quite hold on to. The moment her backside touched the pipe, she fell off the podium, finishing fourth but with zero regrets.

With an eye on reclaiming Olympic gold, she has streamlined her snowboarding, the way a golfer deconstructs his swing. "I got to the point in my riding," she explains, "where I could do the trick, could muscle my board around and get it done. But to make progress, to fix bad habits and reach another level, I had to go back to basics—edging, control, technique. I expected it to pay off in the long run. I wasn't looking for it to pay off this season."

It has. She has won three times, and the week before Cypress she led a U.S. sweep of a World Cup in Bardonecchia, Italy, ahead of 2006 gold medalist Hannah Teter and '06 silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler. With most of her teammates struggling in the subpar pipe at Cypress, Clark was pushed by one of the few women capable of matching her astounding amplitude. That would be China's Jiayu Liu, an 18-year-old whose 39.0 was good for the silver behind Clark's 42.6. Taking third was the effervescent Teter, a yogini and maple-syrup maven who is donating the proceeds from Hannah's Gold, plus her winnings this year, to a Kenyan village she has adopted. Following her final run, she dismissed out of hand the idea that the snowboarding gods might have been punishing her for her ostentatious gold eyeliner. "No way," she said. "I put this on yesterday."

FRIDAY WAS a big day on the slopes at Cypress. John Furlong, VANOC's affable, accessible CEO, showed up with a long-faced gentleman who looked vaguely familiar. Was it? Could it be? Yes, it was. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge was in the house!

The two grandees had come up the mountain for the augur-fest otherwise known as men's and women's snowboardcross, in which four highly aggressive boarders hurtle down a sinuous, banked course designed to comfortably accommodate one. Equal parts downhill and roller derby, boardercross was a brilliant addition to the Winter Games, and though it has continued the X-ification of the Olympics—a process that might have appalled Rogge's IOC forebears—it, like the rest of snowboarding, is now comfortably part of the Games establishment. Said Furlong, with Rogge by his side, "When you're spending all your time on infrastructure, venues, the economy, tourism, sometimes you have to stop and remind yourself why you're doing it." The CEO gets a huge lift, as he put it, "from the inspirational power of these athletes."

The women's boardercross riders inspire with their toughness. Dominique Maltais, a Montreal firefighter, washed out in the quarterfinals on Friday but had a decent excuse. "I broke my left wrist four months ago," she explained, "and my right wrist four weeks ago."

It was Maltais who took bronze in Turin despite sailing ass-over-bandbox, off the course and into a fence. Having clawed and crawled back onto the track, she medaled by virtue of finishing. Tanja Frieden of Switzerland won the gold in that race. Remember who took the silver?

Of course you do. On the bottom third of the course Frieden was far behind Lindsey Jacobellis, whose decision to garnish her final jump with a board-grab cost the then 20-year-old her balance and the gold medal.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4