Snowboarder Farrington scores gold in halfpipe, brings cheers to Sun Valley

ccripe@idahostatesman.comFebruary 13, 2014 

  • Idaho athletes who have won medals in the Winter Olympics

    Gretchen Fraser, Sun Valley, gold (slalom, 1948), silver (combined, 1948)

    Susie Corrock, Sun Valley, bronze (downhill, 1972)

    Christin Cooper, Sun Valley, silver (giant slalom, 1984)

    Bill Johnson, Boise, gold (downhill, 1984)

    Picabo Street, Sun Valley, silver (downhill, 1994), gold (super G, 1998)

    Jeret Peterson, Boise, silver (aerials, 2010)

    Kaitlyn Farrington, Bellevue, gold (snowboard halfpipe, 2014)

Sun Valley has its next golden girl.

Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, who learned to jump, flip and spin on the slopes of Sun Valley Resort, won a gold medal Wednesday at the Winter Olympics in Russia. She beat each of the past three gold medalists in the halfpipe event.

Farrington is the first Idaho-raised athlete to win gold in the Winter Games since Sun Valley skier Picabo Street won skiing’s super G in 1998.

And like Street, Farrington immediately charmed the media and viewers with her personality and compelling personal story.

“I was impressed with the way she was riding,” said Andy Gilbert, the Sun Valley coach who helped guide Farrington to the national stage. “She seemed like she was riding strong and she seemed loose, like she was enjoying herself. That’s always when Kaitlyn has ridden her best, is when she’s smiling and in a good place.”

Gilbert, who still coaches in Sun Valley, watched online as Farrington rode in the qualification round at 3 a.m. Mountain time. After a nap, he tuned in again to watch her compete in the semifinals at 8 and the finals at 10:30.

He was waiting for former gold medalist Kelly Clark’s score on the final run of the competition when his phone rang. He noticed an international caller ID and answered.

“It was all the U.S. team coaches screaming at me,” Gilbert said. “They’re screaming at me but I can’t understand what’s going on and the live feed hadn’t shown (Clark’s) score yet. I found out she had won from the guys who were actually there. … That was probably the coolest way I could have found out.”

Heather Black followed a similar itinerary to Gilbert’s.

It was Black who asked her close friend, Farrington, to join her on the Sun Valley snowboarding team about 10 years ago.

Usually, regulars at the resort are careful to provide “spoiler alerts” when talking about the Olympics, Black said. Not Wednesday.

“Sun Valley’s on top of the world right now,” she said while snowboarding at the resort. “… Everyone needed to know right away.”

Farrington, 24, lives in Salt Lake City and tours the country as a professional snowboarder. She grew up on a cattle ranch outside Bellevue. She competed in swimming and soccer but skied, then snowboarded, for fun, until Black coaxed her to a snowboard camp.

“I was one of the only girls,” Black said. “Kaitlyn would ride with me on free time. She’d say, ‘I can’t snowboard, I have to go to soccer.’ I asked her, ‘Will you please come to snowboard camp?’ She said, ‘I have soccer camp.’ … She came to snowboard camp. Ever since then, I got her onto snowboard team, and the rest is history.”

Farrington skipped school on “powder days” with the blessing of her dad, Gary, who skipped work, too. The family sold cows to help fund her competitive travels.

“She loved being on that mountain,” Gary Farrington said. “We always knew where she was.”

One of Farrington’s best assets in the halfpipe is her grit. That likely helped her Wednesday, too, because she was the only medalist who competed in all three rounds (six runs) in a halfpipe that was panned by some riders for its conditions.

Farrington has endured five hand or wrist surgeries in the past two years — even spending a month with a cast on each hand.

“She came to us with kind of that Idaho ranch girl attitude,” Gilbert said. “She was extremely tough. She’d take falls and we’d say, ‘Ooh, her day is over.’ And she’d get up and take 10 more.”

Farrington reached a crossroads four years ago when she missed out on a spot in the Vancouver Olympics. She considered quitting the sport.

Instead, she went on a confidence-building run that set up what happened in Russia. She beat 2010 Olympic champion Torah Bright in the 2010 X Games Europe shortly after the Olympics and won the season-ending Dew Cup on the Dew Tour.

Four years later, she says, she was more prepared to handle the Olympic qualifying process. And in the final grand prix event that determined the U.S. team, she won — beating former Olympic champions Hannah Teter and Clark, in a glimpse of what was to come.

Her Olympics began Wednesday afternoon in the Caucasus Mountains outside Sochi with the qualifying round. The field of 27 women was split into two heats — 14 in the first, 13 in the second. The top three in each heat advanced directly to the finals; the next six in each heat advanced to the semifinals.

Farrington scored 87 points on her first of two runs, good for sixth overall.

In the 12-woman semifinal, where the top six moved to the finals, Farrington scored 87.5 on her first run; next-highest was 81.25.

And she continued to impress in the finals, despite going in the middle of the 12-woman pack. The top qualifiers get to go last, when top scores usually are awarded.

Farrington scored 85.75 on her first run — only Teter, at 90.5, did better — and 91.75 on her second run (only the best score counts). Then she waited at the bottom of the hill, feet bouncing against the bench, smile on her face, while the biggest names in her sport tried to catch her.

Teter crashed.

Bright’s tricks were big but not as clean. She got a 91.50 and won silver.

And Clark, after a longer-than-usual judging process, was awarded a 90.75, good for the bronze.

“Kelly and Torah both landed their runs,” said Black, who coaches Sun Valley snowboarders now, “so (Farrington) deserved it.”

Black and Gilbert noticed the same judging trend as they watched the competition — one that paid dividends for Farrington, whose jumps weren’t the biggest.

“I thought the judges were really docking or rewarding landings more than anything,” Gilbert said. “On her second run, she was extremely clean. … Not to mention her second hit is a trick no other girl is doing.”

That trick is a switch, backside 900 — that means she headed to the wall riding with her nondominant foot forward, spun backward and completed 2› turns.

“She styles for days,” Teter said of Farrington.

At the bottom of the hill, Farrington flashed some more style — dance moves ranging from a shoulder shimmy to the sprinkler.

“I’m going to dance my face off tonight,” she told The Associated Press.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398

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