U.S. snowboarder Kelly Clark discusses retirement, Chloe Kim’s future

American Kelly Clark competes in the Ladies Halfpipe qualification at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 12 at the Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

By Alex Butler – UPI

Eight years ago Kelly Clark felt a tug on her jacket. When she looked down, she saw a little girl who wanted to take a ride up the lift at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California.

That little girl went on to become a snowboarding sensation and a gold medalist at the 2018 Winter Games. Chloe Kim is also Clark’s close friend. The 17-year-old is on the peak of the snowboarding world, a place where Clark has spent the bulk of her 16-year Olympics career.

Kim has gotten a lift from Clark in more ways than one.

The medals always came in the halfpipe for Clark. At 18, she won a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. In 2010 it was bronze in Vancouver. She snatched another bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

But she says she wants something more. Clark, 34, is part of Team Kellogg’s Get Me Started campaign.

“It was a very authentic crossover for me once I started thinking about that,” Clark told UPI. “I’ve been in this sport for a very long time. So motivation and figuring out what gets me started is something I’ve had to kind of evaluate and develop over the course of my snowboarding career.”

Chloe Kim of the United States celebrates after winning gold in the Ladies’ Halfpipe finals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 13 at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI

Clark — who missed the podium in Pyeongchang — said she did some reflection on her career in 2010. She discovered that she wanted to make a bigger impact, outside of her podium performances in the halfpipe. She strived to elevate the sport and build a culture that became better because she was a part of it.

Medal Without a Podium

While she technically didn’t receive a gold, silver or bronze medal, Clark did hoist a rare prize at the 2018 Winter Games. Kim gave Clark the Order of Ikkos medallion. The honor is typically reserved for a parent or coach, but Clark believes she is the first athlete to receive one from a fellow athlete. Clark gave out the Order of Ikkos medallion in 2010 and in 2014 to her coaches.

“[Chloe] said I was the first person she thought of,” Clark said. “You usually give it to the person who is invested and inspired you and believed in you the most…I think it just speaks to the kind of level of our friendship and authenticity…I think it speaks to snowboarding and what our sport is about. There is a real culture and real friendship and camaraderie that goes along with our competition…you don’t always see it in the world of professional sports but I was overwhelmed and thankful for that award and we joked after: ‘I didn’t think I was getting a medal tonight, but I ended up getting one anyway.'”

Kim was the first American woman to medal at the 2018 Winter Games.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the young athletes,” Clark said. “I can speak to the women’s half pipe team and one of the most talented groups of young ladies we’ve ever brought to the Games. I definitely know what they’re going through. Look at Chloe. She’s 17. I was 18 when I won my first Olympic [gold] medal. It has been awesome to see her.”

Clark has had a 21-year career participating in the X Games, in addition to her decorated Olympics tenure. Her dreams are now broader than they were when that journey began.

“I think for me, the whole thing is that if your dream only includes you, it’s too small of a dream,” Clark said.

Clark said Kim is one of the most talented young riders she has ever seen.

“With her riding at such a high level right now, it’s going to be hard to imagine even if she took some time off snow, she’d still be in the top of the results. Four years from now, it’s hard to see the sport progressing much further past where she is at right now. I would imagine she’ll continue to lead the sport and it will be great to see. I’ve always wanted to take the sport as far as I can so people can stand on my shoulders and take it further than I ever could.”

“I think she is a great ambassador to snowboarding and I think she’s a huge inspiration to young women across the world. She’s a great role model and I think snowboarding will really benefit a lot from having her be the Olympic champ.”

Walking Away

We’ve heard it before from Clark. She said it in 2006. She discussed it again in 2010. But leaving Olympic competition is still something Clark has in mind after competing in Pyeongchang.

“Looking back, I’m really pleased with my performance and career,” Clark said. “I’ve put down my best runs in my fifth Olympics. Not many people have the opportunity to compete in five Olympics, let alone be at a very high level.”

“It has been an incredible ride and journey, but the amount of brain space and heart space that this requires is a ton. I’d love to see what else is in my heart and take some time to really evaluate that.”

“I’m really pleased with my own performance at these Olympics. I rode my heart out and put it all on the line. To see my friends be so successful, my Olympic journey maybe coming to an end, but theirs is just getting started. I really enjoy being able to celebrate their success. I’m really proud of Chloe in particular. And Arielle [Gold] as well, who ended up with the bronze medal, for how they performed and how talented they are on their snowboard, but for the people that they are as well. Handling the success with class and grace. I was just really proud walking away.”

Clark released her first book in December. Inspired: the Pursuit of Progressfeatures details about Clark’s core values and aims to help people define success in a healthy way, outside of just measuring performance.