Snowboarding pioneer, 5-time Olympian Kelly Clark hangs it up after 20 years

Kelly Clark has competed in every Olympic women’s halfpipe competition except the first. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Kelly Clark has competed in every Olympic women’s halfpipe competition except the first. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Kelly Clark, a pioneer in the sport of snowboarding and five-time Olympian who never placed lower than fourth, announced her retirement Friday after two decades of competition.

“After 20 years, nearly 200 events, 137 podiums, 78 wins, and more pipe laps than I can count, I feel that at last I’ve found my own personal ceiling, and it’s time to let others stand on it,” said said in a statement to Burton Snowboards, her longtime sponsor.

The Associated Press and Burton Snowboards released the news. Clark, 35, won a gold and two bronze medals at the Olympics, tied for most overall Olympic snowboarding medals with Shaun White, who has three golds.

Clark’s personal ceiling includes Olympic gold

Clark was the first American to win snowboarding gold when she topped the women’s halfpipe field at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. It was only the second running of the sport in the Olympics and came years before the games included snowboard cross, slopestyle and big air.

She placed fourth at the 2006 Turin games after falling on her last run and won bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, trailing behind Australia’s Torah Bright and the United States’ Hannah Teter in what had become a sport deep with talent.

In 2011 she again cemented her pioneer status by becoming the first woman to land a 1080 (three complete rotations in the air) during competition. She dropped the trick during a victory lap in the Winter X Games, where she won a total five golds, four silvers and a bronze from 2006 to 2015.

Clark won Olympic bronze again at the 2014 Sochi Games and made the U.S. team for one last go-around in Pyeonchang last year, finishing fourth despite a brutal crash weeks earlier at the X Games.

“The next generation will take halfpipe snowboarding further than I ever could,” she said. “Today, I step away from competitive riding knowing that women’s snowboarding is alive and well, and in good hands.”

Clark leaves snowboarding in good hands

Clark still has a lot on her plate in retirement. She released a book, “Inspired,” in December 2017, and runs a nonprofit called the Kelly Clark Foundation, which gives grants to young girls who want to get into the sport.

Clark is continuing her partnership with Burton and is working on one of the most sustainable snowboards the company said it has ever produced. The Rise, developed with Burton CEO Donna Carpenter, will have a limited release and has a carbon footprint that “is almost negative,” she told the site for a Q&A.

Her impact will go beyond those who buy the board. Leading into the Olympics last year she spoke with Yahoo Sports about progressing the sport and leaving her legacy in that way.

The 18-year-old Chloe Kim is the next snowboarding icon in the making. At the 2018 PyeongChang games she became the youngest woman to win an Olympic halfpipe gold medal, earning it by landing back-to-back 1080s, a first in the women’s competition.

Kim landed a frontside 1260 during a 2018 practice in California, a trick no woman has completed in competition.

The young star is the favorite at the X Games this weekend in Aspen, where her predecessor Clark will be honored during the women’s halfpipe final Saturday.

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