Kelly Clark ready for the ride of her life

PAT GRAHAM
11 February 2014
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Kelly Clark of the United States trains for the women's snowboard halfpipe competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Kelly Clark goes higher than any other woman in the halfpipe. She has all the cool tricks, too, even a new one she's trying to perfect.

And now, tying it all together, is a surge in confidence because of her preparation. She's the clear favorite in the women's Olympic halfpipe on Wednesday.

While Shaun White was "antsy" before his final — finishing fourth as he surrendered his title to Iouri Podladtchikov — Clark is more subdued.

"There's a big difference between having potential and being prepared," said Clark, who's from West Dover, VT. "I've been in the Olympics before where I had a lot of potential but I haven't necessarily been prepared. They've been stressful and they've been intense and I've been disappointed. So I worked really hard to get my own personal level really high."

After winning gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, the 30-year-old Clark finished a disappointing fourth four years later in Turin. That, though, propelled her to bronze in Vancouver.

"I almost value my bronze medal more than my gold, because I know what I had to overcome to get it," she said.

Each week, Clark visits with a sports psychologist, who delivers a similar message: Believe in yourself. Ever so steadily, it's seeped through. And now, she's got a trick — a triple-twisting jump down the halfpipe — to fuel her confidence.

"This is 95 percent physical and five percent mental," Clark said. "But if you allow that five percent mental, it can completely erase that 95 percent of prep work."

Here are five other people who have a chance to beat Kelly Clark:

HERSELF: Clark has sometimes been her own worst enemy. That's why she's so well prepared, to the point where her tricks are second nature. "Sochi is when you should be landing the run of your life. The Olympics aren't the time to hold back," she said.

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TORAH BRIGHT: The Australian star soared to gold in Vancouver four years ago. She's expanded her repertoire to include slopestyle — where she made the final but didn't medal — and snowboardcross, which takes place on Sunday.

Still, her roots and, in some way her heart, remain in the halfpipe. At 27, she's at the peak of her powers and says her emphasis on snowboardcross over the last year has made her a better overall rider. Considering her talent, it'd be unwise to rule out a repeat.

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ARIELLE GOLD: A day after older brother Taylor failed to advance out of the men's halfpipe semifinals, the 17-year-old Gold has considerably better odds in the women's field.

Gold, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., didn't get serious about halfpipe until two years ago, but her athleticism and progression has closed the gap between herself and the world's elite quickly. Though she can't quite match the power and air Clark still produces, her consistency could give her good chance at a medal.

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HANNAH TETER: The 2006 gold medalist and 2010 silver medalist comes to Sochi off of what she called a "good practice session" during a week of training that substituted for runs in the X Games.

Teter, from Belmont, Vt., has the experience and while her results during qualifying haven't been outstanding, she knows how to deliver when the stakes are raised.

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CHLOE KIM: Oh wait, the 13-year-old from La Palma, Calif., isn't in the Olympics because she's not old enough to compete. She's been one of the top riders all season, though, including a second-place finish at the X Games. She figures to be a factor in four years.

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AP Sports Writers Eddie Pells and Will Graves contributed to this report.

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