KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It was one of those Olympic-style pauses. Two minutes. Three minutes. To the four women sitting on the bench at the bottom of the halfpipe, it felt even longer.
In the end the cowgirl won the gold.
Kaitlyn Farrington, the 24-year-old from Idaho whose parents sold off their cattle to bankroll her career, sparked the second upset on the halfpipe in two nights. She smoothed out a near-flawless run Wednesday to edge Aussie Torah Bright and take down the American favorite, Kelly Clark.
“I’m sure they do not miss those cows today,” Farrington said of her folks.
The running joke in her family comes when her parents tell her to “Cowgirl Up,” and over a long day that included six runs – two each in qualifying, semifinals and finals – Farrington did just that.
The winning run earned a score of 91.75. It included one of the tougher combinations in the sport – a double-twisting jump with a near-blind landing, followed by a two-spin jump. It closed with a twisting, head-over-heels flip at the bottom. Superb, though certainly beatable by three of the women still at the top for Run 2, all of whom had Olympic gold medals back at home.
Hannah Teter, the 2006 champion who wound up fourth, couldn’t do it. Neither could Bright, who ended up .25 points from her second straight gold, but viewed this as nothing less than a victory considering she’s competing in three events – slopestyle, halfpipe and next, snowboardcross.
Then came Clark. She’s been the most consistent, best-prepared rider over the past four years, a favorite to win another gold 12 years after she burst onto the scene with her first Olympic title in Salt Lake City.
But her evening went down in much the same manner as Shaun White’s did 24 hours earlier.
Like White, Clark had a first run that included a nasty fall; her board careened off the lip of the pipe, bending hard when it hit, then sending her free-falling to her back, 20 feet below.
“I work hard in the offseason to be able to get up from that,” Clark said.
She did. But also like White, she had a second run that included a mistake on her signature trick. White couldn’t land the four-rotation “Yolo” jump. Clark couldn’t quite master a 1080-degree spin that only she attempts. Her spin really went about 1040 degrees, and she traveled too far down the halfpipe while doing it.
And so the real drama came while the judges added things up, knowing they had three Olympic gold medalists sitting on that bench – and deciding if they should make it four.
Farrington, a natural-born dancer, sat there and shook her shoulders. Bright patted her good friend Clark on the thigh.
Teter, who also won silver in 2010 and would have completed a full set with a bronze, sort of knew where things were going to end up.
“I love it when they play it out like that,” she said. “I was hoping they wouldn’t give it to her. But whatever. She did a 1080. That’s why they gave it to her.”
The bronze, that is.