By Todd Kortemeier | Jan. 25, 2019, 10:52 a.m. (ET)
Kelly Clark poses for a portrait on the "TODAY" show set on Feb. 14, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

 

With three Olympic medals — notably gold on home soil in 2002 — across five Olympic Winter Games, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark retired from the sport Friday as one of its legends.

But beyond the hardware, she leaves a legacy of influence on the sport that extends beyond her generation.

“The next generation will take halfpipe snowboarding further than I ever could,” Clark said in announcing her retirement. “Today, I step away from competitive riding knowing that women’s snowboarding is alive and well, and in good hands.”

That next generation is highlighted by 2018 halfpipe champion Chloe Kim, who looked up to Clark as long as she can remember. The two first met on the slopes in their home state of California in 2009, when Kim was 8 and Clark already an Olympic champion and two-time Olympian. Kim tugged on Clark’s jacket and asked in awe, “Are you Kelly Clark?”

Now it will be up to athletes like Kim to be the role models as Clark steps away from competition. The 35-year-old has won nearly everything there is to win in snowboarding, including nine X Games gold medals and 14 world cup wins. And she was just off the podium that Kim stood atop this past February in PyeongChang, her fifth Winter Games, something accomplished by only one other American woman. Her Olympic finishes are unmatched in the sport: gold in 2002, fourth in 2006, bronze in 2010, bronze in 2014 and fourth in 2018.

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“I think sudden success is much easier than sustained success,” Clark said after the Games, “so if I end up top-five at every single Olympics that I’ve been to, I think that’s something to hang my hat on.”

As for the future, Clark has no plans to stay off the board entirely. She plans to keep working and get better at different aspects of the sport away from competition, and mentioned maybe making a film or taking on a writing project. She is also active with her Kelly Clark Foundation that helps provide opportunities for young snowboarders. And of course, she’ll continue to share her knowledge and experience with the next generation.

“I have 16 years of Olympic experience,” Clark said in PyeongChang, “and there’s just a lot of things that I’ve learned and I’ve tried to make myself available and approachable. I think snowboarding lends itself to that camaraderie, and being able to champion these young women and being able to call them friends at the same time is a huge, huge accomplishment.”

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.