BARDONECCHIA, Italy -- Kelly Clark might not have medaled Monday, but she set the bar a little higher for women's snowboarding with the run that almost was.
After qualifying first overall, Clark was in third place after the first of the two finals runs in the women's halfpipe event. And she was going for gold.
"It's the Olympics," she said. "That's what you have to do."
Just prior to dropping in for the second run, she and coach Ricky Bauer talked about toning back her run, changing her final trick from a frontside 900 to a tamer 720. Clark wouldn't have it.
"That's the run she came here to do and that's the run she did," said Bauer. "She came to win."
In 2002, the Mt. Snow, Vt., native had her first big snowboarding successes, winning gold at both the X Games and the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Last month, she won the X Games again, choosing to compete in the contest when teammates Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler withdrew (citing the stresses of training, qualifying and competing in the Olympics as reasons to take a rest). After Clark won at the X Games, it appeared she might just duplicate her 2002 feat.
And until the last possible second Monday, it looked like she would.
Clark hit five tricks -- a frontside air, a backside 540, a frontside 540, a method air and a frontside 900 -- with more air than any woman in the contest and more air than some of the men in Sunday's event.
"She was at least 12 feet out of the pipe," Bauer said. "Double-overhead. I'll say it, she is technically the best women's snowboarder out there."
Because of the amplitude of Clark's tricks and the lateral distance she travels on each hit, she can fit only five tricks down the pipe where the average rider can fit six or seven. Her amplitude comes from the speed gathered by taking more aggressive lines (angled more down the pipe rather than straight across) and riding cleaner edges (without checking her speed) across the pipe than any other rider.
That huge frontside 900 would have been an exclamation point on a perfect run had Clark not shifted her weight a bit too much in the transition. She just couldn't hang on. "I just got a little too far backseat," she said. "It was the best run of my life up to that point."
Even with the fall, the judges rewarded Clark's amplitude with a 38.1, over 10 points higher than any other rider who had a fall. Still, it wasn't enough to hold on for a medal. With Teter sitting in first position with a 44.6, Bleiler landed a big crippler 540, her trademark, at the beginning of a second run that earned her a 43.4 and a silver medal. Norwegian Kjersti Buaas made up for her near-miss of the podium in Salt Lake (she finished fourth) by throwing down a great run for a 42.0, edging out Clark's 41.1 from the first run for bronze.
"I couldn't be happier for my friends," Clark said. "And Kjersti came up with a great run, no one deserves it better."
But no one deserves more props than Clark, showing that she can fly just as high as anyone.