Bleiler: ‘I made my dream come true’
Hopefully Gretchen Bleiler has Tivo.
“I can’t wait to actually see some of this on TV,” she said over the phone Friday night after arriving in Daytona, Fla., four days removed from winning the Olympic silver medal in women’s halfpipe. “Until you really see it on TV, you don’t believe it.”
An ocean from the Olympic bubble, Bleiler tried to sum up her experience.
Exhausting. Exhilarating. Surreal.
Winning an Olympic medal was ” is ” all these things, she said.
And the surreal life only continues back home stateside. Bleiler planned to fly back to Aspen on Sunday. Instead, she’ll be standing in front of 200,000 screaming NASCAR fans as one of the official starters of the Daytona 500. The other two starters? Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens and halfpipe teammate Hannah Teter, who took the gold.
“I don’t know much about NASCAR, but my brother is a huge fan,” Bleiler said. “I think I’m dropping the flag or something.”
The opportunity came up like all of the others this week, Bleiler said, after she and Teter dropped into millions of living rooms across the country with a dominating showing in the Olympic halfpipe in Bardonecchia, Italy.
American halfpipe stars Shaun White and Danny Kass had already won gold and silver, respectively, the day before, and with other major Olympics story lines fizzling (see Bode Miller), suddenly snowboarding had snatched nearly all of the American Olympic spotlight.
The only thing hotter than Bleiler (maybe), Teter, Kass and White were the new episodes of “American Idol” on Fox.
“It was sick,” Sports Illustrated wrote of the halfpipe domination, after putting all four riders on this week’s cover.
And yet Bleiler said the thrill of winning silver hadn’t entirely sunk in because she had not seen her face on TV.
She’ll have plenty of opportunities.
There she was in prime time on Monday being interviewed by Bob Costas while showing off her weighty silver medal. Then an appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” where she chatted with Olympics correspondent Tom Green about her contingent of family and friends who traveled to Italy to watch her. Then the “Today Show,” where she charmed Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. Then “Access Hollywood.” Then “Anderson Cooper 360,” where she was featured among other Olympic athletes because, of all things, she tries to get a full eight hours of sleep every night.
“I’m definitely an eight to 10 girl, but lately it’s been two to three,” Bleiler said over the phone. “I’m just trying to keep up.
“Some of these interviews I’ve done, normally I’d prep and get nervous before them,” she added, “but because everything is so quick and so bam, bam, bam, I’m going from one interview to the next not realizing what I’m doing and just having it sink in a little afterward. It’s like, ‘Oh Yeah, I just did an interview with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric.'”
Before winning her medal, she had been fighting nerves every day since she arrived in Italy, Bleiler said.
But, she quickly added, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I think when you work your entire life toward a goal, then finally achieve it and wake up the morning of the competition, I don’t see how you could not be nervous,” she said. “My biggest goal was just to enjoy the entire competition that day. In the past, I have been really nervous for competitions, so much that I didn’t really get a whole lot of satisfaction out of it. But I had so much fun competing in the Olympics. It was the most beautiful day; it was warm, the sun was out, not a cloud in the sky, the halfpipe was insane. It was just perfect. … When it was over, I couldn’t believe that I got second place in the Olympics and got a silver medal. I made my dream come true.”
So forget the talk about how Bleiler ” who was the only rider to pull a crippler (inverted 540) in the final ” arguably had a better run than Teter. NBC halfpipe commentator Todd Richards said, “That’s the gold medal run right there” after Bleiler’s second trip down the pipe. The contingent of judges didn’t see it that way.
Bleiler’s response: Is that really what people are talking about?
“I rode the best I could have ridden that day,” she said. “I had an amazing run, and I got silver, which I’m definitely proud of. The next morning I woke up and I thought it would have been cool to win the gold, but all these things happen for a reason.”
Besides, there are more interesting topics to discuss.
Like how U.S. snowboarding teammate Mason Aguirre looked hilarious in his outfit for the opening ceremony in Turin. (“It was hilarious, just looking at your friends in things they’d never wear otherwise,” Bleiler said.)
Or how getting pictures with Miller and Michelle Kwan was pretty cool. Or how the registration process at the Olympic Village is a bit like joining the military. (“There’s this room with a big screen and President Bush gives you this message about what an honor it is to compete at the Olympics. It was pretty cool,” Bleiler said.)
Finally, before getting on the plane to Florida, she got to wear her own clothes ” not garb issued by the U.S. Olympic Team.
“It’s pretty amazing how much free stuff you get, like official body wash and lotion,” she added. “DHL is one of the sponsors, and they let you send home one box of stuff, which is cool because you just get bombarded with free stuff.”
As for when she will make her triumphant return home to Aspen, or ” more interestingly ” whether she plans to pursue her snowboarding career with the same fervor, Bleiler’s responses are to the point:
“I don’t know, really. Maybe next week,” she said in response to the first question.
“Definitely,” she said in regard to the second. “I’ve got so much left to do in snowboarding. I’m excited for the rest of this season. We have a World Cup in the beginning of March, Vans Cup, the U.S. Open is the last weekend in March. I’m looking forward to the upcoming contests still this season. Now that the pressure is off, it’s time to ride and work on things and have fun.”
But not before watching a little TV.