Snowboarder Kelly Clark has now competed in five Olympics, but the 2018 PyeongChang Games have been her most controversial. Clark’s fourth-place finish in the women’s halfpipe final on Feb. 12 was considered lower than her performance deserved.
Getting fourth place in an Olympic competition is tough in general. “Fourth is the worst position to finish,” snowboarder Hannah Teter told the New York Times after her fourth-place halfpipe finish in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. “You just missed the podium. It’s definitely a bummer.”
Tougher still is the fact that Clark’s appearance at the 2018 Games at age 34 is likely the conclusion of her Olympic career.
It’s been an impressive one. Over the course of 16 years and five Olympics, Clark — who rides with a sticker on her board that proclaims, “Jesus, I cannot hide my love” — never finished lower than fourth in the Games, earning three medals: a gold in Salt Lake City 2002, and two bronze medals in 2010 and 2014. Add her 70 wins in professional competitions, and she’s still the winningest and most decorated female snowboarder in history.
Yet even veteran snowboarders were confused and skeptical when Clark’s low halfpipe scores caused her to miss the PyeongChang podium by 2.25 points; her third run in the halfpipe final was more than medal-worthy.
After landing a perfectly-executed 1080 and completing a clean run with long holds on her grabs and impressive height on all of her passes, Clark’s score of 83.50 placed her behind China’s Liu Jiayu (who neither completed a 1080, nor successfully grabbed her board) and the U.S.’s Arielle Gold.
NBC commentator and former Olympic snowboarder Todd Richards couldn’t contain his disbelief.
“I don’t understand where the judging is going right now,” he said on air when Clark received her score. “Kelly’s score was very low. I’ve seen every run come down this ring. For some reason, the judges don’t want to reward Kelly.”
It can be frustrating when performance quality is determined subjectively by a panel of judges, and tougher still when the scores don’t seem fair. Yet Clark was an example of graciousness and good sportsmanship when NBC’s Tina Dixon asked about her low score.
“I’m happy with my riding,” Clark said. “I don’t know. I honestly haven’t seen everybody’s runs. I’ve been pretty focused on what I’ve been doing, so I just kind of did what I could. I’m grateful I was able to put down some runs today.”
I won the last Olympic Qualifier at @mammothmountain and got named to the US Olympic team! This is my fifth Olympics, and it feels even sweeter than it did 16 years ago. Thank you to everyone who has invested in me and my dream. #imnotcryingyourecrying pic.twitter.com/hAwZqArxGx
— Kelly Clark (@thekellyclark) January 22, 2018
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