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Snowboarder Captures First US Olympic Gold in Utah - 2002-02-11

The host country United States captured its first gold medal of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics on Sunday.

The reigning U.S. halfpipe snowboard champion, Kelly Clark, is now the Olympic champion. It all came down to the final run for Clark, with the partisan crowd loudly cheering her on.

She qualified first for the 12 women finals, meaning she got to take her runs last. Each snowboarder takes two runs in the final, with the best score counting. Doriane Vidal of France led after the opening run with 43 points. Clark was a close second, with 40.8 points.

In the second run, no one scored higher than Vidal or Clark's first runs, so the American said she tried all her difficult maneuvers and tricks. "Going into my last run I knew that I was going to get no worse than second so I figured that I had to really go all out because if I didn't I would regret it," she said. "So I really gave it all I had. So for my last run I was real relaxed. And the crowd was really going wild, which is great, with all that support there, and when I'm relaxed I ride a little bit better."

And when Kelly Clark crossed the finish line after a smooth and exciting final run, the big video screen showed she knew she had done something special. When the scoreboard flashed 47.9 points, Kelly Clark had won the gold medal by a convincing margin of nearly 5 points, and the honor of being the first U.S. gold medallist at these Olympics. "It's pretty amazing winning the U.S.'s first gold medal, especially having the games here in the U.S.. It means a lot to me being an American," she said. "And all the rest of the Americans, we've had a tough few months here [after the September 11 terror attacks], and it's really good to be part of something people can be proud of and have pride in."

Doriane Vidal, the reigning World Champion in the halfpipe, took the silver medal. She said she had mixed feelings as she watched Kelly Clark try to beat her leading score. "It was a strange feeling, because I like her and I was hoping she would do good, and for the show also," she said. "And then I was also hoping that she wouldn't beat me (laughs). So it was quite strange, and then I was still happy because I was riding good today and having fun, and I was really happy about my run. So I wasn't disappointed."

The bronze medal went to Fabienne Reuteler of Switzerland.