Gretchen Bleiler edges Kelly Clark for superpipe victory
Only one person had a shot to beat snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler at the Winter X Games.
It just happened to be Kelly Clark, an Olympic champion in 2002, and winner of all but one of the qualifiers for Vancouver.
With Bleiler waiting and watching in the finish area, Clark dropped in for her third and final run and threw down a stellar performance, including a huge frontside 900.
Then the hard part began. . . . waiting for the judges.
Bleiler, the hometown Aspen hero, won the women’s superpipe final by 0.66, edging Clark on Saturday night at Buttermilk Mountain. Their U.S. Olympic teammate Hannah Teter was third.
“These girls are all riding insane tonight,” Bleiler said. " . . . It [the second run] felt right. I finally went with the gravity of the halfpipe instead of fighting against it.”
Said Clark, who fell on her second run: “That was one of the best women’s finals I’ve seen.”
Not only did this extend Bleiler’s X Games success -- she has won the superpipe a record four times -- but it helped rid her of the specter of last year here when she fell on the first frontside 900, which she said “haunted” her for the rest of the season.
The most immediate byproduct of the win is the psychological benefit, going into the Olympics.
“This is great momentum for me,” Bleiler said. “Just knowing I’m capable of this is great confidence. Going to Vancouver with these girls, we’re gonna try to sweep that podium!”
Earlier, there was plenty of drama to go around in the snowboard cross events as Nate Holland and Lindsey Jacobellis defended their titles.
Holland somehow avoided a massive crash in the semifinals. Taking the brunt of it was world champion Max Schairer of Austria, who was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures.
It was Holland’s fifth straight title at the X games, and the third consecutive for Jacobellis. Jacobellis prevailed despite feeling less than 100%. “I just woke up this morning and I was really congested and feeling super weak and dizzy,” she said.