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Originally published February 18, 2010 at 9:41 PM | Page modified February 19, 2010 at 12:01 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Americans fine despite relinquishing women's halfpipe gold

U.S.'s Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark settle for silver and bronze, but don't mind losing gold to an extraordinary performance by Australia's Torah Bright.

Seattle Times staff columnist

WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — If this were any other sport, it would matter that the United States didn't win a women's halfpipe gold medal for the first time since its Olympic debut in 1998.

If this were any other sport, you would scrutinize Hannah Teter more, wondering why her final run was so underwhelming when she already had the silver medal clinched and needed to throw caution to the halfpipe to chase gold.

If this were any other sport, there would be considerable American worry that one of our sports is acquiring more parity.

But this is halfpipe, yo.

And, well, let Teter break it down.

"I felt like I could win if I really nailed my last run really big," she said, "but I sketched it."

Sketched?

Huh? Translation?

"I messed up," she explained. "I didn't get it."

In most other sports, such a high-profile mistake, from a defending Olympic champion, would be deemed a disappointment. Not in halfpipe. It's just, well, whatever.

"I'm pretty happy with whatever," American Gretchen Bleiler said.

If this were any other sport, I'd probably hate this vibe. But in halfpipe, it's endearing.

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Under the lights at Cypress Mountain on Thursday night, Australian Torah Bright was better. She was extraordinary. After falling and posting the lowest score of Run 1, she completed a last-to-first triumph with unbelievable flair, nailing five near-flawless jumps and putting up a score of 45 that none of the 11 final competitors could surpass.

Teter, who led after Run 1, couldn't top her and took the silver. American Kelly Clark, who won the bronze, couldn't do it, either.

So, did the Americans sketch an event they own? Nah. The rest of the world is catching up, but this event is more about the runner competing against the halfpipe.

You truly don't lose in this sport. Someone wins. And when that winner is announced, the athletes drop national allegiances and applaud. Because the winner stomped (that's halfpipe for "defeated") the pipe, and that deserves props.

"We're definitely here for America and to support our country, but in the world of snowboarding, we're all really close," said Elena Hight, who finished 10th. "And Torah is an amazing rider."

Said Clark: "I think Torah has been amazing for years and years. It was great to see the way she performed."

Said Teter: "Torah has some crazy tricks. She gets rewarded for doing stuff we don't do."

They're free spirits, these halfpipe competitors, not bound by the competitive-to-a-fault standard of other athletes. It's refreshing. Theirs is a sport of getting up from bad crashes and making the body try seemingly impossible things. It's a good event when no one is badly injured.

And there's no freer spirit than Teter. She's a delightful woman of contradictions. One minute, she's posing in a swimsuit for Sports Illustrated and defending herself while also expressing her disdain for Americans' problem with nudity. The next minute, she's raising money to provide Kenyans with drinkable water.

Teter will be rewarded the standard $15,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee for winning the silver medal, and she plans to give the money to Haiti earthquake relief efforts. She has donated all of her competition earnings this year to charities. She even started her own underwear line, Sweet Cheeks Panties, and gives $5 for each pair sold to Doctors Without Borders.

She's a humanitarian who loves to show skin. She's bubbly, even after sketching. She's a child of light.

Earlier in the day, during the qualification round, Teter marveled at competing in the sun.

"I'm like a plant," she said. "I get a lot of energy from it. I'm a vegetarian, so I get a lot of fuel from plants. And, therefore, from the sun."

They don't keep records for this, but it's safe to assume Teter is the first Olympian with multiple medals to compare herself to a plant.

Asked by a reporter how her four brothers responded to her Sports Illustrated photos, she joked, "They were like, 'Go girl!' "

With an attitude like that, you can never lose.

Bleiler, a medal hopeful who finished 11th, explained the night best. She was disappointed, but she'd been struggling with a trick, a Crippler 7, for weeks. On this night, she landed her Crippler 7 but she fell twice doing other tricks. She was more focused on the success than the failure.

"I'm bummed, and I'm going to go home and cry, probably," she said, "but to have landed that Crippler 7 was amazing."

Yep, in halfpipe, you really can be pretty happy with whatever.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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