Finishing behind Bright, in order, were a pair of Americans: Hannah Teter, who won gold in this event in Turin, and Kelly Clark, who stood atop the podium in Salt Lake City. Since 1998, 24 medals have been awarded in halfpipe. Americans have won 14 of them.
Why does the U.S. own this event? Clark put it in a nutshell, pointing out that snowboarding was invented and established in the States, "resorts were open to it earlier, in the '90s, and now more and more of them are committed to making good parks and pipes." Other countries struggle to catch up to the U.S., pointed out The Globe and Mail's David Naylor, "because they're chasing a moving target." They improve, but the Yanks improve more. By the time the rest of the world had figured out backside 1080s, White and a handful of his fellow pioneers were already going upside-down in the pipe, on a quest for the double cork.
Even if you're wearing a helmet, it can be a dangerous quest.
The boisterous crowd of Aussies cheering last Thursday night included a septet of not especially fit men whose painted midsections spelled out G-O T-O-R-A-H. It did not include Marion and Peter Bright of Cooma, Australia. Or so Torah thought. She's getting married in Utah this June. Concerned that two trips across the Pacific would be too expensive, she instructed her parents to sit the Games out.
"Whatever you want, Torah," they assured her, all the while arranging transportation to Vancouver. It was after she'd completed her final run that the 23-year-old noticed a familiar sandy-haired man in the green-and-gold crowd. It was Peter. Upon realizing that her parents had disobeyed her, she burst into tears.
While her daughter was whisked away to mandatory drug-testing, Marion Bright talked about the afternoon in January when she returned home, made herself lunch, turned on the TV and saw video of her semiconscious daughter being carried from the halfpipe at the Winter X Games in Aspen. Bright had suffered a concussion in a training run while attempting, as Marion refers to it, "the double-twisting thing."
"She was being dragged off the snow, her head lolling back," recalls Marion, who says that in addition to suffering three concussions since New Year's, Torah had "a shocking accident before Christmas" in which she dislocated her jaw while trying to perfect a new trick—a double crippler. Thanks to a therapist who "readjusted the jaw and did all the skull bones," says Marion, Torah was back on the snow in a week.
On the day Bright was cleared to ride, her friend Kevin Pearce was training on her home pipe in Park City, Utah. That was the day on which Pearce, one of the few riders on the planet to have beaten White in recent years, caught an edge executing a double-corked move and slammed his head into the pipe. Despite wearing a helmet, he suffered a traumatic brain injury. After a month in a Salt Lake City hospital, he was recently transferred to Denver's Craig Hospital, a rehab facility for victims of TBI.
Pearce and Lago are members of a confederation of pro boarders called Frends—the I is omitted to denote selflessness (SI, Dec. 7, 2009). By banding together, sharing accommodations on the road and supporting each other at contests, they create a contrast—quite deliberately—between themselves and the more solitary White. Last winter one of White's sponsors, Red Bull, dropped $500,000 to build the Animal his own private halfpipe in Silverton, Colo. There, in his secret mountain lair, White dialed in a handful of double-corked tricks.
Nike, a sponsor of Pearce's, responded by subsidizing a private pipe for him on the backside of California's Mammoth Mountain. Pearce promptly invited his Frends. Among those practicing their unique double-corked moves was a Michigan native and ex--high school football player named Danny Davis, whose style is a rare combination of explosive amplitude and technical precision.