February 13, 2006
BARDONECCHIA, Italy (AP by Eddie Pells)—When it comes to snowboarding, the Olympics are America's halfpipe and the rest of the world is just shredding in it. That point was driven home again Monday, when Americans Hannah Teter won gold and Gretchen Bleiler won silver, adding more hardware to the two medals the U.S. men won the day before.
"USA. Representing, Bleiler said. "We're doing a good job. That's about all I can say.
Were it not for Norway's Kjersti Buaas throwing the run of her life, the Americans would have earned the sweep they almost had when Shaun White, Danny Kass and Mason Aguirre finished 1-2-4.
But Buass' run was worth the bronze and when Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic champion, slipped after her final jump _ a tough, 900-degree spin _ in an attempt to make the medal stand, she wound up 0.9 points short of third.
"All of Europe is depending on me, Buaas said before taking off for her final run. "I got speed and tried to go big because they have so many tricks and I don't.
Indeed, at times, it really does seem unfair _ Americans dominating a sport born and raised in their country and constantly refined there, too.
The move from fringe lifestyle sport to mainstream really took off in 2002, when the American men swept the halfpipe medals at the Salt Lake City Games, the first time the United States had done that in any winter sport in 46 years. That brought about a whole new wave of shredders _ snowboarding's classic catch-all metaphor for powering through powder and tearing up halfpipes.[pagebreak]"I remember going to get my hair done a few weeks after the U.S. sweep, Bleiler said. "The 60-year-old women in the salon were in there talking about snowboarding. It's not a cutthroat sport at all. We're all cheering each other on. Together, we're progressing the sport.
When Clark, Bleiler and Teter finished 1-2-3 in qualifying, it became clear the sweep would be America's to lose. Clark flew higher than anyone off the halfpipe, while Bleiler's landings were smoother and Teter's tricks were more tweaked up than anyone's.
Riding with the cords from her iPod dangling about, Teter scored a 44.6 on her first run to take the lead, an advantage that none of the other 11 riders could match.
It made her second trip, soaring through the pipe and into the sunshine of the Italian Alps, a victory lap _ just like White's the day before. After bouncing up and down and jiggling her legs at the top, she raised her hands, then scored a 46.4 on the strength of a frontside 540 followed by a frontside 900.
"I just kind of felt the same standing up there, Teter said. "It's like, 'Here we go again, another run on the pipe _ but at the Olympics.' I just felt super positive.
The story of the top two finishers could easily be labeled, "Beauty and the Geek.
The 24-year-old Bleiler is no stranger to sexy photo shoots and could probably find a career in modeling when the snowboarding is over.
But cocky, she is not.
Her motivation for these Olympics came from the heartbreak of 2002, when she tied for the final spot on the Olympic team but lost out on the third tiebreaker. It made her journey to this point, and the success she finally enjoyed, a nerve-racking ride with a sweet conclusion.[pagebreak]"I get so nervous, and especially for this event, Bleiler said. "I told my coach, `I don't want to care this much. I don't want to care this much.' But that's what happens when you work for a goal your entire life.
Teter, meanwhile, is an unabashed goofball, all giggles, full of mumbled, stream-of-conciousness answers.
The 19-year-old lists one of her favorite hobbies as making syrup out of sap from trees near her home in Vermont. She was born and raised among a family that loved shredding. Her two brothers also are on the U.S. snowboard team and the oldest manages what they call Team Teter. Teter says her competitive spirit came from hangin' with the boys _ jumping on the trampoline, seeinng who can hold their breath the longest underwater.
She plans to staple her new gold medal to the wall of the playhouse where she and her brothers hang out.
"I'm gonna staple it in with a real staplegun, she said.
And how will being an Olympic champion change her life?
"Maybe I'll get to buy a boat, she said. "I'm still going to be laid back. I'm still going to be grateful.
Though the athletes have taken different paths to this point, they were similar in that they both chose to skip the X Games last month to better prepare for the Olympics. No snowboarder would have thought to do that 10 years ago.
"The Olympics is the biggest event, period, Bleiler said. "The X Games are the biggest event in snowboarding.
And the United States is best in both _ a conclusion nobody can deny and one the Americans don't shirk from, even though it's a sport that proclaims to be more about camaraderie than competition.
It's easier, of course, to say that when you're winning everything.
"We definitely get in other teams' heads, U.S. snowboarding coach Bud Keene said. "When we come into a halfpipe competition, we're rolling in like a freight train.
"You see the way they ride _ it's head and shoulders above the rest of the competitors.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press