VAIL, Colorado — Kelly Clark peers down the halfpipe these days and sees a girl less than half her age doing the trick that she perfected.
On Saturday, the 31-year-old Clark did it better, and held off 14-year-old Chloe Kim to win her eighth title at the Burton U.S. Open.
"These women pushed me today in a really great way," Clark said. "I've been impressed by their riding. You can see, the future of women's snowboarding is in good hands, alive and well."
The men's side looks to be in good shape, too — no longer solely dependent on Shaun White and a stable of Americans to push the pace. Saturday's top three: Taku Hiraoka of Japan, Arthur Longo of France and Ayumu Hirano of Japan. Hirano took silver and Hiraoka won bronze last year at the Sochi Olympics.
But the day's marquee matchup was Clark vs. Kim in the women's contest.
To close out a season that has essentially pitted Kim against the rider she looks up to, the 14-year-old landed the frontside 1080 — elevating over the pipe and making three full revolutions of spin — for the first time in a competition.
That's old hat for Clark, who for years has been the only woman who executes the jump in competitions. On her second run, she landed it cleanly, and the height of her other jumps, along with the solid landings and the technical precision on her grabs of the board, made a difference. She scored a 91, and Kim couldn't overcome that. Her best run was worth 88.74 points.
Clark takes home $45,000 for her latest victory. She first won this event in 2002, when Kim was 22 months old.
"I remember watching Kelly at the Olympics and the U.S. Open, back when it was still in Vermont," Kim said. "She really stood out because she went so big. She's an amazing snowboarder and inspired me to go bigger and do crazy tricks and stuff."
Arielle Gold finished third. The 18-year-old's shot at the title ended when she, too, tried the 1080 but couldn't land it on her third and final run.
Clark has no plans of retiring, which should make the back-and-forth between these friends interesting to watch over the three years leading into the Olympics in South Korea, which is where Kim's parents are from.
Kim was too young to compete last year in Sochi, where Clark finished third.
But they finished 1-2 virtually every time they've been on the halfpipe together of late. In January, Kim beat Clark at the season's other premier event, the Winter X Games.
Some might call that a rivalry.
"You use that word, not in a sense of head-to-head, but healthy competition," Clark said. "I love that. I think it's good for the sport."
Another thing Clark likes is the progression on the halfpipe in this, a non-Olympic year.
"You're more apt to see it heading into the Olympics, when everyone's incentivized to do it," she said. "But we're doing this on our own, which is good to see."
Seeing Kim, Gold and others co-opting her trick, Clark is now working on another, more-difficult version of the 1080. She wants two 1080s in her runs in the future.
"It's about doing well in the contest, but it's also about the progression of women's snowboarding," Clark said. "It's bigger than me, bigger than me landing a run. I'm proud. I'm excited to see this. I think it's going to be a good summer of riding with these girls, and a good winter of competition, as well, next year."
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