2010 Winter Olympics: A Torah Bright, shiny gold medal in halfpipe
Marcio Sanchez, AP
CYPRESS, British Columbia — Torah Bright slid to a stop after a near-perfect halfpipe run and put her hands on her head.
No one told her what her score was. The judges hadn't even announced it.
But the Australian snowboarder who makes her home in Salt Lake City knew she'd likely achieved what she's been working toward most of her life — an Olympic gold medal.
"It's been six years in the making," said her brother and coach Ben Bright of the winning run that featured a trick that no other woman has done, a switch backside 720. "That was the plan. That was the gold-medal run."
It was a gratifying moment for coach and athlete, for brother and sister, after the disappointment in Torino four years ago and recent injuries that threatened to keep her from redemption Thursday night at Cypress Mountain in front of a full house. In that rowdy crowd, which included shirtless Aussies with Torah's name painted on their chests, were her parents, Marion and Peter, who she didn't know were in attendance until after her winning run.
"I told them I'd rather have them at my wedding in the Salt Lake Temple than at the Olympics," she said laughing after blowing away the competition with a 45-point run. "I should have known they were going to come."
When her brother told her they were among the rowdies, she burst into tears.
Bright, 23, stood atop the podium, finally, as an Olympic champion for Australia, her hometown of Cooma and her family. She shared the podium with two Americans — Hannah Teter, the defending Olympic champion, won silver with a score of 42.4; and Kelly Clark, the 2002 gold medalist who placed fourth in Torino, won bronze with 42.2 points.
"My parents have taught me ever since I was young, if you're going to do something, give it your best shot," she said. "And that's what I've done with my snowboarding."
Bright's Olympic hopes dimmed last month when, in the span of four weeks, she suffered three concussions. The most serious one was at the X Games.
Her mother came home from work, turned on the television and saw her daughter being carried out of the pipe, head hanging limply at the X Games, just two weeks before the Games.
Bright, the fourth of five outdoor-loving children, dislocated her jaw just before Christmas. She was in the pipe practicing when U.S. snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a concussion that put him in a coma for weeks.
There was a moment when her mother thought maybe this Olympic endeavor just wasn't worth it.
"I told her, through her sister, just forget it," Marion said. "As a mother, it's horrifying. I hate when they get banged up."
After the jaw injury, things seemed to get worse for Torah.
"She had a terrible lead up to the Olympics," said Marion Bright after hugging her daughter. "She hasn't been on snow since the X Games. She's had three concussions since the new year. That's what it takes to get a gold medal."
And while there was some discussion whether or not Bright should compete, her mother said she always knew she would.
"I think she was always going to do it," said her fiance Jake Welch.
Bright has worked too hard in pioneering her sport to watch from the sideline.
"It's such a special event," Bright said. "There's no doubt about it. There are different energies about this. The whole of Australia tunes in for this. They don't tune in for X Games."
Bright planned to score big on her first run and then decide what she needed to do to win. She qualified in first place, but like Clark and American Gretchen Bleiler (who finished), she fell and had only one run to make that dream come true.
"The plan was to land that first run," she said, laughing. "But that didn't quite work."
Because she had the lowest score in the first round, she had to compete first in the second round. No matter, her brother said, this isn't, after all, her first rodeo.
"She was fine," said Ben, choking back emotion. "She's been here before. She's been at the top of her sport for such a long time. She was mentally prepared and mature about her snowboarding. It was good to see."
Torah confirmed she didn't worry about the stakes, just nailing the jump no other woman has done.
"It's a special event, but I felt the same up there," she said. "It looked the same as jumping into the X Games pipe. The field of riders is the same. I knew if I put down that run, I'd have a pretty good chance to be on top."
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