US cheers Farrington’s halfpipe win

San Jose Mercury NewsFebruary 13, 2014 

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — This Idaho cowgirl definitely didn’t have the blues.

Unheralded snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington won the gold medal in the women’s halfpipe Wednesday night at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park by edging the three previous Olympic champions, and the United States regained a little prestige on a day some of the biggest names faltered at the Sochi Games.

Farrington, who grew up on a cattle ranch in the central Idaho town of Bellevue, led a strong American effort in the halfpipe, one day after Shaun White and the U.S. men stunningly were shut out of the top three.

Farrington, 24, scored 91.75 on her final run, holding off 2010 Olympic champion Torah Bright (91.5) of Australia and 2002 gold medalist Kelly Clark (90.75) of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Hannah Teter, the 2006 gold medalist from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., was fourth, .25 of a point behind Clark.

The women snowboarders restored some faith in a U.S. team that has had a tepid start to the Sochi Games.

Before the halfpipe final late Wednesday, Alpine skier Julia Mancuso of Squaw Valley, Calif., finished eighth in the women’s downhill. Chicago long track speedskater Shani Davis was eighth in the men’s 1,000 meters,

an event he won the two previous Olympics.

Farrington won America’s third gold of the games on her final attempt of six runs — two each in qualifying, semifinals and finals.

“I can’t believe I was sitting there in front of the last three gold medalists,” she said. “It’s crazy. Snowboarding’s changing so much. It’s anybody’s game on any day.”

That’s the case if you ride for the United States. Since halfpipe was introduced in 1998, Americans have won eight of the 15 medals awarded. Clark has three — a gold and two bronze — and Teter has a gold and a silver.

Teter, 27, thought she should have won another medal in her third Olympics, questioning the judges’ scoring on her first run of the 12-rider final.

Clark, 30, who won the Winter X Games halfpipe gold last month, celebrated an American finishing atop the field.

“If I didn’t win, I’m glad someone from the U.S. did so we can hear the national anthem,” she said of the medal ceremony.

As the first week of the Sochi Games nears the finish line, the anthem has not been played much. The United States is tied with host Russia in fourth place in the medal count with nine each. Norway, the winningest nation in Winter Olympics history, leads with 12 medals, followed by Canada with 10.

If not for the new additions of action sports, the United States would be in serious trouble. Snowboarders Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson won the other two U.S. gold medals in the new slopestyle event.

White — the biggest celebrity of the Sochi Games — was expected to win his third consecutive gold medal Tuesday night but finished fourth. Danny Davis was 10th, and fellow American Greg Bretz placed 12th.

But the U.S. women looked as relaxed as ever while attacking the pipe with awe-inspiring tricks and ultracoolness.

“That was something very, very special that just happened,” said Farrington’s father, Gary.

His eyes were wet after Clark’s final score appeared on a large screen at the bottom of the halfpipe.

The horse trainer sold his cows to help fund his daughter’s snowboarding, but the Idahoans never expected their project to lead to the Olympics.

Many others didn’t, either. Farrington won the final of five selection events last month at Mammoth to make the team.

“It was all so fast,” she said. “I kind of believed it when I was on my flight to Sochi. Now to leave as a gold medalist, I’m just beside myself about it.”

The former barrel racer who started skiing at age 3 said her final run might have been the best of her life.

“Up at the top, I was like, I’ve got nothing to lose right now,” Farrington said. “So I may as well just go for it.”

It didn’t surprise Teter, who plans to get home and ride the powder at her home resort of Sierra-at-Tahoe.

“Nobody can count her out ever,” Teter said. “She’s just style, so much style.”

But to knock off the sport’s heavyweights on such a pressure-packed stage?

“I don’t think anybody knew that was coming,” Teter said. “Surprise, surprise.”

A pleasant one for the American team.

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