PARK CITY, Utah (AP) Snowboarder Kelly Clark won America”s first gold medal of these Olympics yesterday with a high-flying, dominating performance on the halfpipe.

Paul Wong
American 18-year old Kelly Clark got her first taste of Olympic gold in the halfpipe event. Her medal was also the first gold one for the United States.<br><br>AP PHOTO

With “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns n” Roses blaring in the background, Clark put in a run to remember, flying higher and landing more dangerous jumps than anyone in the field.

Clark”s score of 47.9 easily beat Doriane Vidal of France, who scored a 43.0. Fabienne Reuteler of Switzerland won the bronze.

“I”m so psyched. It”s so amazing,” said Clark, an 18-year-old junior world champion. “I can”t even explain what I”m feeling right now.”

American Shannon Dunn, the bronze medalist in Nagano, finished fifth and teammate Tricia Byrnes was sixth.

But the day belonged to Clark, and to snowboarders all over who have tried to lose their widely perceived image as a bunch of slacker rebels. Waging a battle among themselves, they are trying to decide if competing in the Olympics stays true to the individualistic nature of the game.

Yesterday, the Olympics seemed like just the right place for this sport.

In the packed stands, young men painted out “U.S.A.” on their bare chests in the subfreezing cold. Before the event, break dancers boogied in the parking lot. A rock band played during intermission.

It was all part of an X-treme day that belonged to Clark, the Vermont resident who won medals in three of her first four World Cup events this season, but never on a stage as big as this.

“I”ve never seen anything like it to have all this support here in the U.S.,” Clark said.

Before her second run the one that gave her the gold she stood at the top of the halfpipe, and pumped a fist before she began.

She won the event with a maneuver called a McTwist, a 540-degree inverted spin, then followed with a 720-degree jump at the bottom.

Before that, she jumped higher above the lip of the halfpipe than any of her competitors. It”s called amplitude, which carries extra weight in the world of Olympic judging, and Clark was up to the task.

After her score was announced, Clark jumped into the arms of her coach, then scaled one of the restraining fences to celebrate with some more people she knows.

While that played out, Vidal looked on with a smile knowing there was no beating the American on this day.

Pechstein sets world record: Claudia Pechstein set another world speedskating record at the Utah Olympic Oval, winning the 3,000-meter race yesterday to upstage German rival Anni Friesinger.

The flamboyant Friesinger had won every 3,000 race during the World Cup season and hoped to get started on capturing three gold medals at the Salt Lake City Games.

But Pechstein stole the show, shattering her own world record by crossing the line in 3:57.70 seconds more than 1 1/2 seconds ahead of the old mark of 3:59.26.

“This is just too much,” Pechstein said. “I had a small dip halfway through the race, but I kept it up till the end.”

Renate Groenewold of the Netherlands (3:58.94) and Canada”s Cindy Klassen (3:58.97) also went under the previous record to claim silver and bronze, respectively.

It was the second record in two days at the track, which is considered the world”s fastest ice.

Friesinger wound up fourth, fading badly on her final lap to cross the line in 3:59.39.

“It was anybody”s game, even though Anni has won a lot,” said American Jennifer Rodriguez, who finished seventh. “Anni had all the pressure.”

Cooling down on the inner track, Friesinger watched helplessly as three skaters eclipsed her time.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *