SOCHI - Most people think of snowboarding as a sport for the young and often daring. But at the Winter Olympics, American Kelly Clark showed this week she still has what it takes at age 30.
Do not tell Kelly Clark she is too old to perform spectacular aerial acrobatics on a snowboard. She has been doing it for years and does not plan to give it up anytime soon, even though she has now competed in four Winter Olympics.
She added more hardware to her trophy case in Sochi, winning the bronze medal Wednesday in the women's halfpipe. She was the first-ever American Olympic gold medalist in this event at the age of 18 at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Clark placed fourth at the 2006 Turin Olympics, then won the bronze medal four years ago at the Vancouver Games, so she is now the only Olympic snowboarder to have won three medals. Clark has also had great success at the Winter X Games and at scores of other international snowboarding events. She is the most decorated male or female athlete in the sport.
Clark says she was inspired to be a snowboarder by watching a videotaped broadcast of the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
"I watched it after school. I was 14 years old, and I had one of those moments where I said, 'this is what I want to do with my life.' And you don't think you make decisions when you're 14 years old that will completely shape your life, but that one did for me. And it's been one of the great privileges of my life to be part of it. You know, four years later I was standing on top of the podium in Salt Lake City convincing my dad that this was a legitimate sport," said Clark.
Clark believes she has done so well for so long because she has adapted as the sport has changed, and that was key to reaching the medal podium in Sochi.
"Every day I'm continually challenged, and I think that's why I keep coming back. And for me I kind of looked at this whole experience as icing on the cake for an amazing snowboard career, another opportunity to go for the Olympics and go for the Olympic podium again," she said.
Since snowboarding was added to the Olympic program in 1998, Americans have won far more total medals than any other county. Clark explained why.
"I think that the resorts in the [United] States really got behind snowboarding early. And they invested in the training parks and the halfpipes, and they created a place for us to train. Back in the (United) States we're training with the Swiss, with the Japanese. All the other countries are in the States training with us. And I think it's been a great thing to witness and be a part of and to really be a forerunner in," she said.
Clark says that makes the snowboarders a tight-knit group.
"I think snowboarding is unique in that sense because we are genuinely friends. We do care about each other. There is that aspect of camaraderie and friendship that goes along with it. And it's a balance, and it can be a tension at times. You just have to respect people in their place on competition day and know that regardless of what happens out there that the friendships are bigger and more valuable and more stable than any upset, than any win, than any loss. Those come and go, but the friendships remain," said Clark.
Clark acknowledged that this has been a transition year for her because the last two U.S. halfpipe teams included the same women.
"I'm starting to see more and more of my peers that I started snowboarding with retire, and it took a little bit of an adjustment for me, to be honest, to be able to kind of shift gears and be more of a mentor role and less of a peer. I perhaps don't relate to everybody that's not my age as much. But I can still be a leader and I can still encourage, and I still have things that I've learned that help these girls be successful," she said.
Clark says it has been very fulfilling to lend her support and know she has been an inspiration to the younger generation that also aims to achieve the dreams she has seen come true. She also now has her own organization, the Kelly Clark Foundation, which provides funding for young snowboarders with needs.
Clark believes the addition of snowboarding has been good for the Winter Olympics.
"I think that snowboarding has been very successful as an Olympic sport, and I think the Olympics have been beneficial to our sport as well. I think they've been so successful because it's so relatable as a viewer. You know, it's something that people are out there on the weekends doing with their family. They're enjoying it. If they're not hitting the 22-foot pipe or the 70-foot jumps, they're in the 12-foot pipe or hitting the 10-foot jumps at their mountains on the weekends. I think it's so inclusive. There's such a culture behind snowboarding that gets displayed through our events, and I think it's been a great addition to the Olympic Games," said Clark.
Kelly Clark says she is still motivated after winning her Olympic medal in Sochi, already dreaming up new tricks. So she is not ruling out an attempt to compete one more Winter Games.