Kelly Clark took first in the Burton US Open halfpipe semis today, riding in quintessential Kelly form… stomping a smooth front 10 first hit and ending her run with a poked out method. I sat down with Kelly yesterday and asked her some questions about her Sochi experience and the US Open thus far.

Kelly Clark, showing off her newest hardware: a bronze medal | P: Susie Floros
Kelly Clark, showing off her newest hardware: a bronze medal from Sochi | P: Susie Floros

So how was the overall Sochi experience?
I think everyone was pleasantly surprised. Personally, I have other Olympics to compare this to, and it was safe, it was well run, the people were friendly, the venues were all very central which was nice as an athlete, because then you can meet other athletes and see other events which is cool. I think the only thing that was difficult was that the weather was so warm that it just made it really challenging, whether you were riding halfpipe, or downhill skiing, it was just warm.

And then coming from Vermont, your style of riding is more… you practiced this morning, you didn’t practice this afternoon like everyone else; you like an icy pipe.
Were you spying on me?! That is what I did! Perhaps I was more prepared for variable conditions, just based off of my track record and based off of my experience and where I’m at in my career. I got ready for any condition, but at the same time, that probably hurt me more than anybody— those sort of bumpy, rutted, inconsistent conditions— because of the speed I carry. It’s like, I was more prepared than anybody, but it worked against me the most. And Shaun [White] for that matter, that’s why you saw him have such a difficult time. No other guy out there is doing a 24 foot method in a sketchy halfpipe… it’s just going to be a lot harder.

Light speed in Tignes, France | P: Gabe L'Heureux
Light speed in Tignes, France | P: Gabe L’Heureux

How was it for you, seeing all the negative Shaun press?
You know, our practice wasn’t really great there. The pipe was actually really good on contest day as compared to practice days, and everybody was kind of losing it, like everybody was super negative and nobody had done their final run. So I actually kind of distanced myself both from the media and from my friends that were more on the negative side, because that’s just the healthy thing for me, to not be around it. Check ya later, if you’re gonna whine…

Fair enough. So when it came down to it, you were the very last person to drop, you fell your first run… how do you overcome that situation mentally? When it’s do or die…
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I think I actually value this medal more so than almost anything else I’ve done in my career because I know what the circumstance were like that day. I mean, ideally, you want it to be a perfect pipe, you want it to be this pinnacle event and my Olympic experience would tell me that that’s not the case all the time. You can’t put this event on a pedestal, because it’s an outdoor winter sport. There are so many variables to that, from who cuts the pipe to who runs the event, to what the weather is doing. So many things I can’t control. My practice went very, very bad… probably the worst practice I’ve ever had for finals. I fell 5 out of 5 runs. I tried my 10 in every hit I could, I changed my run 5 times trying to find a combination in that pipe that would work, and I couldn’t make it work. It was actually more difficult between practice and run one, than it was between run one and run two.

Clark, boosting under the lights | P: Tim Peare
Clark, boosting under the lights | P: Tim Peare

I went to my sports psychologist at the bottom, and I was like, “hey, that was really disappointing, I fell every run in practice… can I have like a 30 second cry? I’ll cry it out for 30 seconds, and I’ll move on.” Done. Cried it out for 30 seconds, went back to the top. It’s not glamorous [laughs]. I went back to the top, and Torah saw me, and she’s like, “hey, you, come here,” and gives me a hug, lets me go… looks at me… gives me a hug, lets me go, and says, “you need one more of these,” and gives me a hug and holds me until I catch my breath. It’s really amazing how far a hug from a friend can go. I was more impressed by that girl than anything that night. And then Torah and I both proceeded to fall our first runs [laughs].

Needless to say, it was the deepest I ever had to dig. I was the last person to go in Olympic Finals, sitting in last place, trying to land my first run of the night. So I fell six runs in a row, only to land my seventh and get on the Olympic podium. And it wasn’t my best run I’ve ever done on my snowboard, but for me, that day, that was a huge success. So I’m beyond happy, and really happy about the performance and how I handled it mentally. It’s realistic to be disappointed, but you can’t let that set the tone for you, so sometimes you just need to cry it out, and move along!

“Everyone works really hard, and only three people have something to show for it. If I did this just for the medals, I would have quit a long time ago.”

Now you’re here at the US Open. How many of these have you done? Do you know?
I was trying to count up my US Opens the other day, and I don’t think I made it past pre-qualifiers for the first 4 Opens that I did. My first one that I actually made it to, to semi-finals, was in 2001. It was the year of the Burton Troop board — the board with the Japanimation graphic— we had yellow bibs. And I think Natasza Zurek and Ross Powers won that one. I didn’t make finals that day, and I cried. Which is awesome. So about 13 years… just over 15 if you don’t count all the times I didn’t actually qualify.

Kelly Clark flying into second place at the 2013 Dew Tour | P: Gabe L'Heureux
Kelly Clark flying into second place at the 2014 Dew Tour | P: Gabe L’Heureux

Wow. That’s impressive! So then as far as this Open goes, how do you like the pipe so far?
It’s just so nice to go to a halfpipe competition where the pipe isn’t the thing that you’re worrying about. Where you actually get to focus on your run and you don’t have to focus on the conditions. So it just makes it easy, and it makes for progressive riding as well, so it’s been super fun. You know actually Arielle [Gold] and I were kidding around, because people were complaining about this pipe today [laughs]. And the organizers have been asking me like, “I heard the pipe is just so-so…” and I was like, “Are you kidding me? It is all good man, all good!” Even Arielle was like, “I almost wanted to tell those guys, I’ll give you something to complain about!”

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So are there any tricks you’re super excited to throw here?
To be honest I haven’t ridden pipe since the Olympic Final. So I was happy to see that everything was right where I left it. I’m still working towards a cab 10, but I don’t know if that will happen this weekend.

And then where do you go? Any powder in the plans?
I do have some powder plans. I was home last week in Mammoth when it snowed, which was amazing, and then I’m heading to Baldface at the end of March with Burton.

Oh, right on. That’s perfect.
Yeah, for sure!

Kelly in Baldface, BC, in 2013, letting her inner lumberjack out | P: Gabe L'Heureux
Kelly in Baldface, BC, in 2013, letting her inner lumberjack out | P: Gabe L’Heureux