PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The post-Kelly Clark era in Olympic snowboarding came perilously close to an early start Monday.
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Clark, a five-time U.S. Olympian, fell near the end of her first halfpipe qualifying run and was in 14th place going into the second run, with only the top 12 advancing to Tuesday’s final.
Teammate Arielle Gold faced an even steeper climb after a first-run fall left her in 21st.
Both, though, successfully negotiated the high-wire act of doing just enough to advance, joining Chloe Kim — the top qualifier — and Maddie Mastro to fill a third of the final with Americans.
“Today’s a fluke, tomorrow’s a new day,” said Clark, 34, once she finally knew she would compete for a fourth Olympic medal. “Thank goodness.”.
Clark, competing eighth, scored 63.25 on her second run, good for ninth at the time. The next rider, France’s Mirabelle Thovex, dropped Clark to 10th with 15 riders still to go. Three of those already were ahead of her, though, and several others had little chance of beating her out.
Gold came close, scoring 62.75 in a run that U.S. Halfpipe head coach Rick Bower felt should have been higher. Japan’s Sena Tomita was the only other rider to pass Clark and Gold, both grateful to have new life in the three-run final.
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“It was all me” not performing, said Clark before she knew her fate. “Just made mistakes. I had a really great practice, I’m riding the best I’ve ridden all year. It just didn’t go how I wanted it to go. I’m riding at an extremely high level, it just wasn’t my day. Turns out I’m human.”.
Both Clark and Gold, in her second Olympics but competing for the first time after dislocating her shoulder during practice at Sochi in 2014, were conservative on their second runs, calculating that their completion would stand up to the remaining challengers.
“That definitely impacted our strategy for Arielle,” Bower said. “We knew there were one or two people that could potentially bump her if they landed a very clean run. We felt confident with our strategy of stepping back and playing it a little bit safer.”.
There was no such drama for a pair of 17-year-old Olympic rookies: Kim, this season’s World Cup leader, and Mastro.
Kim, a fan favorite because of her Korean heritage, was the only rider to break 90, doing it twice with a high of 95.50. Mastro had the fourth-best qualifying score at 83.75 with China’s Liu Jiayu (87.75) and Japan’s Haruna Matsumoto (84.25) between the Americans.
“That second run felt really good, very perfect,” Kim said. “I’ve been really trying to clean up all the little details and I think I did just that so I’m really excited.”.
Mastro was surprised by being relatively calm in her Olympic debut. “I was able to eat some breakfast, which is a first for me,” she said. “I’ve had the whole idea going into this that it’s fun and that helped to keep my nerves at bay.”.
Kim was thinking about ice cream — “I really like vanilla Swiss almond, but I’ll be OK with a mango sorbet” — while Clark was sweating out what could have been the end of the Olympic line for the sport’s greatest rider.
Instead, Clark earned a reprieve and another chance to hold off the kids she’s inspired.
“She won the last Grand Prix in Mammoth and she’s still on top of her game and could definitely get on the podium here,” Bower said. “I was very grateful they (Clark and Gold) were able to rise up with all that pressure and put down that run. That’s nerve wracking, and something they haven’t had to do too much.”.