Inspired Farrington wins halfpipe gold

Gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington bested a field that included three former Olympic champions. Nathan Bilow/USA TODAY Sports

SOCHI, Russia -- "Hey Kaitlyn, have you seen this yet?"

A few moments before she was to take her first semifinal run in women's snowboard halfpipe Wednesday afternoon, U.S. coach Peter Foley handed Kaitlyn Farrington his phone, which was set to play a video.

"No!" she said. "I haven't. Thank you!" Earlier in the day, Farrington had received an email from Andy Gilbert, her childhood coach on the Sun Valley, Idaho, snowboard team. In the email was a link to a Vimeo video and the explicit instructions to "WATCH THIS BEFORE TONIGHT!" But the video wouldn't play on her computer, and she got caught up trying to qualify for finals at the Olympics and never had a chance to watch whatever it was Gilbert wanted her to see. Standing in the start area, with TV cameras pointed in her direction, Farrington gripped the phone between her yellow Team USA mittens and was almost brought to tears by what she saw.

One by one, Gilbert, her friends and local supporters appeared on the screen, sending messages of good luck and reminding her why she joined the snowboard team in the first place (for the dudes), where she was when she landed her first contest McTwist (Northstar) and where she won her first halfpipe contest (Jackson Hole). Over video showing her competing in the halfpipe and photos of her riding and goofing around with her friends, messages flashed telling Farrington to "keep smiling," "keep doing methods" and "enjoy the ride." It ended with a message from Gilbert, who was too choked up in the opening of the video to speak. "We're so proud of what you've done, and we know there's more to come," he said. "Now just get in there and let it rip."

Farrington was the only rider on the U.S. team who had to compete in semifinals, which meant throwing two additional contest runs two hours before finals. Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter had qualified directly out of quarterfinals into finals, and Arielle Gold injured her shoulder in practice and had to withdraw from the competition. Although Farrington knew she might have to compete in semis and had even told Clark on Tuesday that she was prepared to snowboard all day, Farrington was nervous about making the final. It was the goal she had set for herself, and she knew she had a run that could land her on the podium. She just needed to make it to the final.

But as she dropped in for that first semifinal run, the nerves melted away. She thought about everyone back home in Sun Valley and she felt as though she were taking them all along for the ride. "I felt like they were all there in the halfpipe with me," Farrington said. "They've all been there for me for so long, and that video was so special. Watching it, I thought, 'Wow. I've come a long way.'" She had no idea how far she was about to go.

Farrington finished first in semifinals and qualified seventh overall into the final, which was being touted as a clash of the gold-medal titans. The past three Olympic gold medalists -- Clark, Teter and Bright -- were considered favorites for a repeat. Farrington, who has been one of the more consistent riders this season and is always one of the most technical, was considered a long shot to make the podium. But winning is about being the best rider on any given day. And Wednesday night, Kaitlyn Farrington was the best halfpipe rider in the Olympics.

"I fought to get into finals, and I knew that if I landed my run, I might be in the top three," said Farrington, who landed different runs in prelims, semis and finals. "I still can't believe I won the gold medal." But it was well deserved.

For her first run of finals, which included the only switch backside 720 of the contest but lacked clean landings and amplitude, Farrington earned an 85.75, which held up in second place behind teammate Teter, who landed two 900s. Clark, the 2002 gold medalist, struggled in practice and fell hard on a cab 720 in her first run of finals. Defending gold medalist Torah Bright also fell, on a midrun frontside 540.

"This was one of the hardest events I've ridden in a long while," said Bright, the eventual silver medalist. "We all put on a show, so it doesn't matter the color of the medal. We're all here united as shredding babes."

The first of the top riders to drop in for her second run, Farrington threw the same tricks in the same sequence as she had in her first run but gave an entirely different performance. She rode smoother, she went bigger, she held her grabs longer. It was one of the best contest runs of her career. And the judges rewarded her with a 91.75 and first place. Then Teter fell. Bright landed her run but buckled on a landing. And Clark landed her run, which included the only 1080 of the night.

"After my second run of finals, I had to sit there and watch everyone take their runs," Farrington said. "Kelly landed her run, and at that point, I was just happy because I knew I was going to be on the podium."

The judges took an extraordinarily long time to post Clark's score -- a 90.75 -- which was enough to bump Teter off the podium but not enough to win. "I fell on every run in practice and fell in my first run of finals, and we're talking epic falls, so to come back and land a run, that's a huge win," Clark said. "I'm so proud to be back on the podium.

And with the U.S. men failing to medal Tuesday night, the women of the U.S. halfpipe team might be in for quite the media tour back in the States. "The boys were telling us we have to make up for what happened yesterday," Farrington said. "I think Kelly and I did that, and I'm so proud to go home with these medals."

First stop: Sun Valley.