(L-R) Arielle Gold, Hannah Teter, Kelly Clark and Kaitlyn Farrington of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Women's Halfpipe Snowboarding Team.
On Sunday, the 2014 U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team was named, and the women’s halfpipe squad includes two Olympic gold medalists — Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter — and the fortuitously named Arielle Gold, a 17-year-old who burst on the scene last year with two Winter X Games bronze medals and the world championship title. Rounding out the roster is 2011 Winter X Games silver medalist Kaitlyn Farrington.
“We saw some amazing performances by these riders with a blend of veterans and newcomers landing next-level runs,” said U.S. snowboarding coach Mike Jankowski after the final Olympic qualifier at California’s Mammoth Mountain. “We're taking an outstanding team to Sochi that's ready to bring home those medals.”
Perhaps more revealing of this team’s strength is a list of those who did not make the 2014 Olympic team, including two-time Olympians Elena Hight and Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler, as well as Chloe Kim, who would have made the team with three second places if she were old enough to compete in the Winter Games (she’s only 13). Bleiler and Hight were gracious in defeat, with Hight explaining, “Women's snowboarding is at its highest level, as the world will see in February. I am so proud of my American teammates and will be cheering them on next month.”
In fact, women’s snowboarding was at its highest level at the five U.S. Olympic qualifiers.
“If you look at the top 10 competitors in international competition, the bulk of them are from the U.S.,” said Clark. “Often I find that the [Olympic] qualifiers are perhaps more competitive than the Olympics themselves.”
Clark made Olympic qualifying look easy though, taking the lead in all the qualifiers except the final one. Saying that she is more prepared than ever, 30-year-old Clark is looking forward to competing in her fourth Games.
“I never imagined when I was a kid that I’d have this opportunity this many times,” she said after the fifth qualifier.
For Teter, 26, going to Sochi looked like a far-off dream back in December. At the first two Olympic qualifiers — the Dew Tour in Breckenridge and a Grand Prix at Copper Mountain — she did not even make the finals. When she came to Mammoth for the final three halfpipe qualifiers, it was all or nothing.
“I definitely felt the heat,” she admitted. “But sometimes that makes me get in the zone when I’ve got to do it — all or nothing. It pushed me to be in the spotlight, and I like the spotlight.”
Three third-place finishes in the final qualifiers put Teter on her third Olympic team.
Farrington also faced a do-it-or-go-home scenario coming to Mammoth. Perennially chasing the heels of Clark, Teter, Bleiler and Hight, 24-year-old Farrington, who grew up on a ranch in Idaho and competed in rodeos when she was younger, saved her best for last. After finishing consistently between fourth and sixth place in the first four qualifiers, Farrington shown through in the final competition, beating Clark.
“The stress was on, but it was also, ‘I know what I do, and I do it well when I land,’” she said. “I just wanted to land my run. I knew that’s what I needed to do to make this team in the clutch.”
For Gold — a high school senior from Steamboat Springs, Colo., who burst onto the scene last year with a bronze medal at Winter X Games and a win at the world championships — consistent riding in all five qualifiers earned her a spot on her first Olympic team. And she credited her competitors with motivating her to constantly push herself and improve.
“I’ve been looking up to these guys ever since I started snowboarding,” she said, referring to Clark, Teter, Bleiler and Hight. “Getting to compete and train alongside them has always been huge for me. Now I’m starting to become pretty good friends with all of them, so that’s also been pretty cool.”
Older brother Taylor Gold, who also made his first Olympic team in men’s halfpipe, played a part too, telling Arielle to not ride like a wimp — in so many words — when she was younger.
“It’s crazy,” said Arielle after being nominated to the 2014 Olympic Team. “Coming into this season, I think [Taylor and I] both had similar goals. We just wanted to be consistent and land runs at every single contest. We both had one of the best seasons so far of our lives. So it’s pretty amazing to be going to the Olympics in the first place, and to be going together is kind of unreal.”
Farrington also credited her teammates for inspiring her to take snowboarding to new heights, particularly Clark and Hight, the first woman to land a double cork (two diagonal flips) in competition.
“When Elena did it, it was like all right, this is where snowboarding is going for women’s snowboarding,” she said. “We all have it in us. The skies the limit on that one.”
In the final qualifier — described by many as “electrifying” — Farrington did not do a double cork but did include a backside 900 (2.5 revolutions). Her run bested Clark’s best run by one point.
In Sochi, the U.S. women’s snowboard team will face strong competition from Australia’s Torah Bright, the defending Olympic gold medalist who beat Clark at the Dew Tour in December, as well as Holly Crawford and Sophie Rodriguez. Crawford, also from Australia, finished second to Clark at the Sochi World Cup last February, and Rodriguez, from France, was third in Sochi last year. At the Copper Grand Prix, the second Olympic qualifier, the French rider finished one point off the podium in fourth.
But the U.S. women have won half of the Olympic medals since halfpipe debuted at the 1998 Nagano Games. And the team is looking as strong, or stronger, going to Sochi.
“America’s looking real good right now,” said Teter. “I think we’re going to throw down and definitely, obviously take some gold medals.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.