Clark wins to make fourth US Olympic team

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By EDDIE PELLS, Associated Press

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. (AP) — Kelly Clark made it from the couch to the Olympics, all in the span of a few hours.

Hurting with a stomach bug that left her couch-bound most of the day, the snowboarder secured a spot on her fourth Olympics team Saturday night with a near-perfect run on the halfpipe at the U.S. Grand Prix.

"To be honest, it's hard for me to compute right now," said the 2002 Olympic champion and 2010 bronze medalist. "You plan, you dream, you train and it happens and you're kind of in awe."

Clark had the contest wrapped up when nobody in the second round could beat the score of 95 she had posted on her first trip down the pipe. Instead of coasting down to collect the winner's check, she increased the degree of difficulty on the second run, mixing a frontside 1080 spin into the routine — considered one of the toughest tricks the women try.

She got rewarded: A 98.0 — two points short of perfect.

"That was the first 10 I did all day," said Clark, who didn't get off the couch until about two hours before the contest. "Usually, I'd be out in practice working on it. It was more of a conserving-energy mission tonight."

Clark topped Arielle Gold by 6.75 points for the victory. Gretchen Bleiler, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, finished third to complete an American sweep.

Bleiler is less than two years removed from a training accident in which she fractured her eye socket while practicing a trick on a trampoline.

"That put me back a long, long way," she said. "I've had to rebuild, start from scratch, it feels like. It feels real good to have come out here and done this."

Gold's brother, Taylor, won the men's event. The lowest-ranked qualifier, Gold went first in the men's contest and scored a 90.25; the mark held up over the next 31 runs, as none of the other 15 finalists could beat it in two tries.

"I wasn't really expecting anything coming into the year," Gold said. "I was just stoked to have enough tricks to be able to compete. This is unbelievable for me."

The victory puts him in good position for an Olympic spot, as did the second-place finish for Greg Bretz, who pairs that with his win over Shaun White last week at the Dew Tour.

White, the two-time defending Olympic champion, didn't compete, choosing to focus on Sunday's slopestyle contest while he brings his hurting left ankle back to 100 percent.

Earlier in the day, Nick Goepper became the first American to wrap up a spot on the U.S. Olympic slopestyle skiing team. Goepper finished second behind Andreas Haatveit of Norway, who is also going to Sochi.

"It's all downhill from here," Goepper said. "And then it gets real uphill in February."

On the women's side, Canada's Dara Howell got her career victory.

Her score of 87.6 put her ahead of a trio of Americans: 16-year-old Darian Stevens, six-time X Games medalist Grete Eliassen and 15-year-old Maggie Voisin, who added the fourth-place to a third-place finish last week.

Notes: Scott Lago, bronze medalist from 2010, hurt his wrist during training. He finished 10th, while another 2010 Olympian, Louie Vito, finished 12th. ... Two-time Olympian Elena Hight, who has a double-cork jump in her repertoire, finished eighth. ... The next Olympic qualifying event, originally scheduled for Northstar, Calif., has been moved to Breckenridge, the week of Jan. 6.

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On the web: wintergames.ap.org

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