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Motivated Kelly Clark shrugs off critics after Olympic bronze

Kelly Clark

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 12: Kelly Clark of the United States waits for her score in the Snowboard Women’s Halfpipe Finals on day five of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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Kelly Clark isn’t done snowboarding, not after four Olympics (three medals), 15 Winter X Games (nine medals) and more than 60 victories and 100 podium finishes.

She isn’t done, because she thinks she can still do better.

“I don’t feel like I’ve really hit my potential,” Clark said in New York last week. “I’m going to keep chasing down my dreams and chasing down the progression of my own personal riding and continuing to raise my own bar.”

Clark, 31, won bronze at the Sochi Olympics, when most predicted she would win gold.

What most didn’t see was Clark falling on all five of her practice runs and her first of two competition runs the night of the final.

She was the last rider to go on the second run and didn’t fall under that pressure. She posted a 90.75 to jump on the podium with gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington and silver medalist Torah Bright.

“That was probably one of the greatest victories I’ve ever had,” Clark said. “My bronze medal run in Vancouver [2010] and in Sochi, it wasn’t my best snowboarding. But in the context of the events and in the situation that I was at, it took a lot more work to get those bronze medals than it did some of my X Games wins and even my Olympic gold in Salt Lake [City in 2002]. I think you value things based on what they cost you.”

You choked, she heard people say.

“If I was doing it for the medals, I would’ve quit a long time ago,” Clark responded.

She’s doing it for the same reasons as before Sochi -- pursuing progression. After the Olympics, Clark rode all the way through May, including winning her seventh U.S. Open in March.

“She’s still the best, if not one of the best, easily,” U.S. snowboarding and freeskiing coach Mike Jankowski said. “The Olympics are a great event, but it’s one night.”

Clark is still perfecting her cab 1080, which she tried at a handful of events last season. The former high school tennis standout will begin the 2014-15 season at a U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colo., in the first week of December.

She loves snowboarding more now than when she started. Clark spent three weeks riding in Mt. Hood, Ore., in July, then trained in Chile and just got back from more riding in Austria.

“As long as I have things that I want to learn, that’ll be what governs [how long I compete],” Clark said. “For me, the Olympics aren’t a destination. They’re simply a wonderful addition to a great snowboarding career.”

Clark’s competition this season figures to include the surprise Olympic champion Farrington and the formidable 14-year-old Chloe Kim. Kim was born three months after Clark debuted at the Winter X Games in slopestyle and snowboard cross (but not halfpipe) in 2000.

Kim finished one spot behind Clark at the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships and the Winter X Games last season, but she was too young for the Olympics. Clark will go for her fifth straight X Games halfpipe gold in Aspen, Colo., in late January, which would put her one behind Shaun White‘s streak that ended last year.

“I never really look at what the other girls are going to shape my approach,” Clark said. “I look at Kaitlyn, I look at Torah, [2006 Olympic champion] Hannah [Teter] and Chloe, you get inspired by what people do, but I never look at them to shape the decisions that I make.”

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