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Kaitlyn Farrington of S.L. learned toughness needed to earn gold in Sochi while ranching in Idaho

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 9:35 p.m. MST

From left, bronze medalist United States' Kelly Clark, gold medalist United States' Kaitlyn Farrington and silver medalist Australia's Torah Bright pose following the women's snowboard halfpipe at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park at the 2014 Winter Olympics Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Sergei Grits, ASSOCIATED PRESS

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — Taking care of cows, harvesting hay and riding horses may not seem like activities that would help create a world-class snowboarder.

But Salt Lake’s Kaitlyn Farrington said it was growing up on a ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho, that gave her the mettle necessary to stand on the top of the podium at the Olympic Games in Sochi Wednesday night.

“Growing up in Idaho, growing up on a ranch, it definitely made me a tough girl,” said Farrington, who moved to Utah to attend Westminster College. “I’ve had to ‘cowgirl up.’ That’s kind of what I had to do.” An underdog to earn a medal of any color, the 23-year-old made herself more of a long shot when she failed to qualify directly to finals. The other two women on the podium with her — Australian and Salt Lake resident Torah Bright, who earned silver, and American Kelly Clark, who finished with bronze, qualified directly to finals — Clark in the No. 1 spot and Bright No. 2.

For Farrington, it was all about keeping it fun and keeping it focused.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “I fought to get into the finals. I did all three rounds. … I was hoping to make the finals. That was my main goal, and then during the finals I thought if I land a good run, I might be on the podium. So to come out on top, I just can’t believe it.”

That’s because almost no one saw Farrington with a gold medal around her neck. To win the event, she had to best three Olympic champions — Clark (2002), Hannah Teter (2006) and Bright (2010).

Teter put down a clean run, but Farrington was better, earning her winning score of 91.75 on her first run. Both Clark and Bright fell on their first runs, so all Farrington had to do was sit (or dance) at the bottom and watch some of the best female snowboarders in the world try to outperform her.

Bright went second to last and scored 91.50, after which Clark put everything in doubt with an impressive run that scored 90.75. Teter finished fourth, just .25 of a point behind Clark.

Farrington was shocked at what she’d accomplished.

“I can’t believe I was sitting there in front of the last three gold medalists,” she said, Bright giggling on one side of her and Clark smiling on the other. “It’s crazy. Snowboarding is changing so much. It’s anybody’s game on any day.” And Wednesday was the cowgirl’s day.

“I think I just learned how to be tough,” she said. In fact, she told reporters that her father didn’t coddle her, even when she’d get banged up training for her sport.

“My dad used to say, ‘Put it on the list’ when I’d say I had something (that was) hurt,” she said. “And the last time he told me to put it on the list was when I ended up having knee surgery.”

Her father’s ranching didn’t just instill a work ethic and toughness in Farrington. It quite literally contributed to her ability to travel, train and compete.

“When I started competing in bigger events, my dad had to sell his cows to get me there,” she said. “My parents have been backing me from day one. I’m sure they do not miss those cows today.” Farrington said that while Sun Valley resort gave her scholarships for much of her training as a teen, she needed to pay a coach to travel with her, and selling the cows provided the quickest, most lucrative option.

“That was just the easiest way to come up with the money — sell a cow,” she shrugged and smiled.

The victory was a thrill for the entire U.S. team after the men were shut out of the podium Tuesday night.