|Kelly Clark attends Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2014 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 17, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Earlier this fall, Kelly Clark confessed to one of her sponsors, Burton Snowboards, that she had a problem.
“I don’t know how to travel with my medals,” Clark said, partly in jest, “because I’ve never had so many to travel with, so I don’t know what to do with them.”
The four-time Olympic snowboarder now has three Olympic medals to lug around the world to appearances: Her gold medal in halfpipe from the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and two bronzes, one each from the Vancouver and Sochi Games. With each weighing over a pound, that’s about 3.5 pounds of metal in her carry-on luggage.
“It’s always interesting getting through security at the airport,” she added with a smile.
Clark would eventually like to create a secure display case for the medals and her myriad of other trophies at her home in Mammoth, California. She’s won every major snowboarding competition at least once and has more wins (over 60) than any other snowboarder, male or female. Now in her 13th season on the U.S. snowboarding team, she has no interest in retiring. The winningest snowboarder ever plans to pursue a full competition schedule this season, including the Dew Tour, X Games, U.S. Open, European Open and the U.S. Grand Prix events.
When asked if she would like to compete at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Clark said yes without pause.
“I’m taking it one day at a time, working on my snowboarding, maintaining my fitness, working hard,” she said recently at a salon in New York City before the annual U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Gold Medal Gala. “I’ll probably gear up in about a year and really commit.”
In the youth-driven sport of snowboarding, 31-year-old Clark continues to be a trailblazer, getting amplitude above the halfpipe that most snowboarders only dream of. And she continues to inspire other snowboarders — both kids and her teammates.
Sage Kotsenburg was 8 years old when Clark, then 18, won gold at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, and he remembers meeting her at an autograph session in a Park City, Utah, sports store after the women’s halfpipe competition. She signed young Kotsenburg’s green and orange jacket.
Clark doesn’t remember meeting the boy who would become the first Olympic gold medalist in men’s slopestyle snowboarding at the 2014 Sochi Games. But meeting Clark made its mark on Kotsenburg.
“Seeing you, that was still a big moment,” he said to Clark, who was waiting to get her hair styled and joking about gray hair. “I remember that as the coolest thing ever. I still have that jacket. It’s in my mom’s attic.”
“You forget sometimes,” added Kotsenburg, of the impact Olympic athletes can have on their young fans.
Kaitlyn Farrington, 24, is also inspired by the snowboarding veteran. At the Sochi Games, Clark talked her “through the whole thing,” said Farrington. “She’s such a great mentor for all of us.”
Farrington ended up with the gold medal in Sochi after Clark fell her first run, then had a slightly rough second run — still good enough for the bronze medal though.
But more Olympic medals are not what Clark is after. As she has always said, it’s the sport’s progression — often pushed by Clark herself — that continues to motivate her.
“I don’t look to the Olympics or anything like that to arrive or be defined,” she said. “It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Oh yeah, I did the Olympics, that’s what I was going after.’”
One of few women to successfully land a frontside 1080 (three revolutions), Clark continues to work on her tricks.
“I’ve got cab 10s, I’ve got frontside doubles, but I’ve got a lot of things to learn,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve really hit my stride or my potential yet. So I’m still going.”
Her goal is to create bigger and better tricks, but not to outdo her competition. She simply wants to do her best.
“I don’t look at outside motivators so much,” she said. “I try to be really internally motivated. I want to go after my trick goals whether it’s an Olympic year or a non-Olympic year or an X Games final. I want my standard to be really high, and I want to be really intentional with it. That’s what really makes it enjoyable for me. If I’m in the driver’s seat, I’m doing tricks because I want to, not because I have to.”
If someone says to her “Kaitlyn is doing some kind of trick,” Clark does not think that she should mimic it. Rather, she sticks to her own plan.
“I’m hoping that my standard, my own personal level, my own personal bar, can be at a place where it’s like my stock contest run can be as good or better than everyone’s best,” Clark said. “So I’m kind of my own biggest competition.”
Clark will be 34 by the time the 2018 PyeongChang Games roll around. Some of her fellow competitors are half her age. Chloe Kim — who finished on the podium in three of the five 2014 Olympic qualifiers, and also finished second to Clark at the 2014 X Games, but was too young to compete in Sochi — was only 22 months old when Clark won her first Olympic gold medal in Salt Lake City. Farrington was in middle school.
Rather than wishing that Clark would put herself out to pasture, Farrington continues to use the word “inspire” to describe the four-time Olympian.
“It’s awesome to see someone that’s had the career that Kelly has had still continuing,” said Farrington. “It’s inspiring because I’m like, ‘Oh yes, I still have a couple more (Olympics) in me.’”
“It’s just cool because she’s still in it, pushes us so much, and pushes the sport,” added Farrington, “and that’s what she wants to keep doing.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.