Longevity is hard to come by in a sport like halfpipe snowboarding, where it seems every year the tricks get bigger, the athletes get younger and the toll on the body becomes even greater.
But none of that has slowed down Kelly Clark.
The 34-year-old from Mammoth Lakes, California won a gold medal in halfpipe in her Olympic debut in 2002 and on Saturday qualified for her fifth trip to the Games. She was already the only first U.S. snowboarder – male or female, regardless of the event – to compete at four Olympics; she will soon become the first to compete at five.
Clark will be joined by two athletes literally half her age – 17 – at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Also punching her ticket to the Games in women’s halfpipe at Mammoth was Maddie Mastro; Chloe Kim confirmed her spot on the Olympic team last month.
Clark won the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in California, scoring 89.00 on her first run. It was Clark’s first win since February 2017, when she was victorious at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang.
Kim was second Saturday night, with an 87.00, and Mastro third, scoring 81.50.
Clark became the youngest U.S. snowboarder to medal at the Games in 2002, and the first American to win gold in halfpipe, and remains the most decorated Olympic snowboarder ever with the bronze medals she won in 2010 and 2014. She finished fourth in 2006.
Although she’s likely to lose her designation as the youngest to medal this year to teammate Chloe Kim, 17, Clark said the ongoing progression of the sport has kept her competitive.
“If I did the run that I did in Salt Lake (in 2002), I wouldn't even make the final today,” she said this fall at the Team USA Media Summit. “I've had to constantly progress my riding, and I think that’s why I'm still able to be here 16 years later is because I'm constantly challenged, and I love that.”
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Mastro, of Wrightwood, California, remembers watching snowboarding at the 2010 Olympics – where Clark earned bronze – and thinking that’s what she wanted to do someday.
She turned 10 years old during those Games and will now achieve her childhood goal at 17.
Mastro is an up-and-comer in the sport and burst onto the scene in the 2015-16 season, finishing third at her world cup debut in January 2016 and second at a world cup the following month.
She finished third at the U.S. Open in March 2017 behind Kim and Elena Hight and then started the current season with a third-place finish at Winter Games NZ, a second-place finish at the Copper Grand Prix, a fourth-place finish at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge and a third-place finish at the Snowmass Grannd Prix last week.
A fourth woman will be named to the U.S. Olympic women’s halfpipe team in the next few days.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.