Four vie for women’s superpipe gold at Buttermilk
“It’s on,” Gretchen Bleiler said Wednesday while seated next to longtime rival Hannah Teter.
The 26-year-old Aspen local and current ESPN The Magazine cover girl was talking about tonight’s women’s superpipe final under the lights at Buttermilk. That’s when Bleiler will slug it out with the three other riders who’ve captured gold at Buttermilk since 2004 ” Teter, defending champion Torah Bright and 2006 champ Kelly Clark ” in a new overhauled three-run format.
Or was she talking about Saturday night?
That’s when Teter will be ringing in her 21st birthday at a private party at the newly opened, swanky Fly Lounge ” a night club designed to look like the inside of a jet liner, complete with cocktail waitresses dressed like flight attendants.
Teter, the Olympic halfpipe gold medalist in 2006 and the 2004 Winter X pipe champ, cast a suspicious look when asked which of the two she was more looking forward to.
“Do you really want me to be honest?” the Belmont, Vt., native said. “The 21st birthday, of course. I’ve been waiting for it for so long.”
As for Bleiler, she’s been waiting for a shot at redemption for 12 months after Bright ” a 21-year-old Australian ” snuck in and spoiled her usual victory lap in front of her hometown fans.
The top qualifier last year, Bleiler posted the best opening run with a score of 91 ” then waited to see if anyone could top it. Bright, summoning the energy of the scores of screaming Aussie fans lining the pipe ” on, of all days, Australia Day ” followed with a second run for the ages.
She opened with a tricky air-to-fakie transfer, then swung a huge Cab (switch frontside) 720, followed by a massive McTwist two hits farther down the pipe. She closed with a backside 360 and a switch backside 540. There was no 900, but the technicality and smoothness of Bright’s run earned her a score of 94.66.
With the pressure squarely back on her, Bleiler couldn’t deliver in her second run, falling on her opening 900, to hand the win to Bright.
“I have to say it was the highlight of my season,” said Bright of the win, somewhat surprisingly, considering she won $100,000 ” the largest single payout in snowboarding history ” in March when she claimed the inaugural Burton Global Open Series. “So many things happened last year, but really winning here was the highlight of the year and the highlight of my whole career.”
Since winning Olympic gold, Teter has had two trying seasons, the result of a nagging knee injury that she said is finally fully recovered. She had surgery to repair a bone fracture after the Olympics, and the ensuing rehab period allowed her plenty of time to focus on her charity work.
Along with her signature maple syrup called “Hannah’s Gold,” which donates its profits to helping children in a town in Kenya, Teter said she is giving away all her winnings this season.
While Teter, Bleiler and Bright are all acutely aware of what each other is doing in the halfpipe, all three said that turning the focus outward instead of inward is a trap.
Each wants to win, but, to a person, each also appreciates what her fellow competitors bring to the mix ” for motivation, if nothing else.
“I’m not exactly sure of how the other girls look at it, but for me, I’m just trying to progress my own riding and female snowboarding at the same time,” said Bright, who qualified second behind Bleiler in Thursday’s elimination round with a 91.66. “Gretchen and Hannah definitely are pushing the envelope. There’s a bunch of us who are kind of out there every day just pushing ourselves and ulitimately the sport.”
Bleiler said she rides better when she’s faced with a challenge.
“It’s encouraging to watch all of the girls, because everyone has their own strengths,” she said. “It’s just really encouraging to be out there watching them and if they’re landing their run and killing it. It just inspires me to go out there and push myself that much more.”
She also mentioned, even after winning the women’s pipe final twice, in 2005 and 2003, that going up against the best in the world in front of her hometown fans never seems to get any easier.
“I find myself a nervous wreck,” she said. “I’m trying to keep it mellow, keep it loose, but I get so nervous. It just means so much.”
Of course, there’s always Saturday night to let off some steam after it’s all over.
“We’re going to get her wrecked,” said Bleiler of Teter’s party. “Good thing her birthday is after the event, otherwise she wouldn’t be a contender.”
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