Gold for Aspen’s Bleiler in Winter X pipe final
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Six riders made the final, but Saturday night’s Winter X Games women’s snowboard superpipe final quickly morphed into a head-to-head thriller.
Aspen’s hometown hero Gretchen Bleiler and Vermont’s Kelly Clark put on a show for the record crowd, soaring high above the Buttermilk superpipe – and high above 90 points on the leaderboard. In the end, Bleiler’s second-run 96.66 was enough to edge rival Clark, whose third run garnered a 96.
The win was Bleiler’s fourth in superpipe. No one else has more than two.
Many are hoping the results are a preview of things to come in Vancouver. U.S. Olympic Team members swept the podium, as South Lake Tahoe, Calif.’s Hannah Teter (70) took home the bronze.
An estimated 34,500 spectators witnessed Saturday’s action, setting a single-day attendance record.
“At first, the pressure of competing in front of friends, competing in front of family and competing in front of the community got to me. … I’ve learned how to use it to my advantage,” Bleiler said. “I truly believe all the support helped me ride to the level I did tonight.”
After her first-run 90 was trumped by Clark’s 94.66, Bleiler responded. The 28-year-old landed a corked 900 off the first hit in her second run, which also featured her signature Crippler 720, a cab 720 and some stylish 540s.
It was good enough to garner a 96.66 from judges – one of the highest scores ever. (Australia’s Torah Bright, the 2009 champion who pulled out of this year’s event after suffering a concussion during practice Tuesday, holds the record with a 97.66 set in last year’s elimination round.)
“Tonight it all came together finally,” said Bleiler, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist. “I didn’t doubt myself. I just went for it.”
Quite a feat considering what happened in last year’s final. Bleiler undershot her landing on the opening hit in her second run, smacked onto the lip, flipped backward and fell to the flat some 22 feet below.
While she got up under her own power and snowboarded to the bottom of the pipe, Bleiler’s night was over. She settled for sixth place.
“Last year was a really rough year for me,” she admitted Saturday. “[That fall] haunted me for the rest of the season.
“On the second run [tonight], I don’t know, just everything went right. I dropped in on that [frontside 900] and sort of corked it live I’ve never done before. … Everything felt like it had good amplitude.”
Clark led the field in that category, soaring 14 feet out of the pipe on her first run. After a fall in the second, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist made things tough on the judges with a third run that featured a huge 900, two 720s, a 540 and two stylish straight airs.
“You never know how it’s going to go,” Clark said of the judging. “I find it best to set my own goals and focus on what I’m doing. … I landed the run I set out to do. That’s a successful night.”
The win was Bleiler’s fourth in the last eight Winter X pipe finals.
“I finally feel like I’m riding to my potential tonight,” Bleiler said. “Knowing I’m capable of this is great confidence.”
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