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Snowboarding Pioneer Kelly Clark Pushes Limits

NBC Olympics/ USOC
At 30 years old, Kelly Clark is the most successful snowboarder in the sport's history.

On the eve of Sochi, Clark won her fourth Winter X Games halfpipe gold medal in a row (“The best preparation for a big event is competing in a big event,” she says) and is primed for the big stage.

“This journey really started four years ago,” Clark says. “My goal was to get my riding to where my standard stock run would be competitive enough to make the team. I didn’t want to have to make the ride of my life to just (earn a spot on the Olympic roster).

“So I went out this year and stayed well within my ability level and secured my spot before Christmas. That’s how I hoped it would go.”

Clark is now 30, more than twice the age of many of her challengers (the Winter X Games silver medalist was 13-year old Chloe Kim). She stands not only as a success symbol but also as a pioneer who has pushed the sport to new heights.

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Clark’s gold medal run in 2002 included a Frontside 720 and a McTwist with an Indy Grab – a 540-rotational twist executed while grabbing the board.

“I would be a non-factor if I used those moves now – I wouldn’t even make it out of qualifying,” she says. “The sport has come so far and there isn’t a day I’m not challenged. You can never arrive because the sport is always evolving.”

At the Winter X Games, Clark attempted two cab 1080s –three full rotations – something no woman had ever attempted (no woman has landed even one cab 1080). The moves didn’t quite click, but don’t be surprised to see Clark take another shot at it when the women’s halfpipe is held Feb. 12.

“I am constantly pushing myself and I plan on putting down the most difficult and most technical run I have in Sochi,” Clark says. “You’re going to see more of me.”

When Clark watched the 2012 Summer Games in London, she found herself cheering for every athlete over age 30 because she knew that’s where she was headed.  She feels a long way from the 18-year old who ruled the world in 2002.

“On some levels, back then I used snowboarding to prove who I was and what I was about, Clark says. “And while I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything, it wasn’t until Torino that I began to identify myself outside my sport and realize that being successful doesn’t always go hand in hand with being fulfilled.”

The fulfillment and inner peace that Clark has found are rooted in her strong religious faith and the work of the Kelly Clark Foundation she established in 2010. That non-profit organization has awarded more than $60,000 in scholarships to help diversify snowboarding and make it more financially accessible.

“Snowboarding can be expensive and sometimes all you need is the opportunity,” Clark says. “The foundation helps underserved youths get out on the hill for the first time and it has been very rewarding for me.”

Clark laughs when asked if she has updated her life plan recently.

“To be honest, I am pretty tunnel-visioned at the moment on Sochi,” she says. “But I am really able to enjoy my sport now rather than have it define me – it’s a lot more fun now,” she says. “I train smarter, not harder.

“Snowboarding is filled with the impossible and the unknown – we really don’t know what the limits are. I’m healthy and I’m motivated and I love it more than I ever have. I’m not in any hurry to leave.”