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Idaho Snowboarder Grabs Northwest's First 2014 Olympic Medal

Sarah Brunson
U.S. Snowboarding
USA snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington (center) of Bellevue, Idaho won gold in the women's halfpipe on Wednesday.

The Northwest has its first Olympic gold medal from the 2014 Sochi Games. Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington of Bellevue, Idaho triumphed in the women's halfpipe Wednesday.

Farrington delivered two clean, daredevil runs on a spring-like evening when most of her better known competitors struggled under less-than-optimal snow conditions.

"I was hoping to make the finals, that was my main goal, and then during finals I thought if I land a good run I might be on the podium," Farrington said. "So to come out on top – I just can’t believe it."

In Ketchum, Idaho, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation director Rob Clayton watched the final with a crowd in the team training room where Farrington got her start. "It was just electric. The room was ecstatic and almost in shock and disbelief as the final unfolded," Clayton related.

Farrington is the first Olympic medalist from Sun Valley since Picabo Street brought home gold in alpine skiing from Nagano in 1998. Farrington will receive her gold medal in a ceremony by the Black Sea on Thursday.

The halfpipe competition was a highlight on a day when Team USA and Northwest athletes otherwise finished far from the podium. Two skiers from Oregon raced in the Olympic downhill. Laurenne Ross of Bend finished in eleventh place and Jacqueline Wiles of Aurora placed 26th.

Afterwards, Ross posted on Instagram, "Not an amazing day for the USA alpine girls, but it was my best result of the season... at the Olympics! So that's neat."

The best result in the first three days of cross country ski competition by athletes with Northwest roots is a 27th place by Sun Valley ski team alumnus Simi Hamilton. U.S. cross country ski coach Erik Flora says the team still has some chances to get in the medal hunt.

"There is a lot of racing ahead and a lot of good opportunities; definitely some good possibilities with the sprints coming up" this weekend and next Wednesday, Flora said by phone from Sochi.

Olympic athletes from our region remain in high spirits to judge from the smiling "selfies" and the upbeat comments they are posting to social media accounts. On Tuesday, Methow Valley, Wash., cross country skier Erik Bjornsen pronounced the racing "awesome." Seattle-born and raised teammate Holly Brooks adds "fun" and "crazy, exciting" to the assessment of the scene in the mountains above Sochi.

Thursday's competition schedule will see Erik Bjornsen's older sister Sadie in action in the women's 10km classic cross country ski race. Speedskater J.R. Celski of Federal Way, Wash., will return to the ice for 1000-meters qualifying action.

Here is how Northwest athletes have fared to date:

Christian Niccum - Doubles luge
Niccum, of Woodinville, Wash., finished in eleventh place in the doubles competition Wednesday. The three-time Olympic slider was paired with Jayson Terdiman. Those two will race again in the doubles portion of the team relay in Sochi Thursday evening.

Jackie Wiles - Alpine skiing
The 21-year-old U.S. Ski Team rookie from Aurora, Ore., finished in 26th place in the women's downhill. "There were some nerves today, but I feel like I channeled that into some good energy," Wiles said in a team statement Wednesday. Wiles skied for the White Pass, Wash., racing team in her teens.

Hilary Knight - Ice hockey
The medal favorite in the women's ice hockey tournament is meeting expectations. In a likely preview of the gold medal match next week, Canada edged the USA, 3-2 on Wednesday. Knight scored the first goal of that game. Earlier, Knight chalked up a goal and an assist in an opening 3-1 victory over Finland on Feb. 8. On Monday, the forward from Sun Valley, Idaho, contributed another goal and an assist in a 9-0 shutout of Switzerland.

Kent Callister - Snowboarding

Callister finished in ninth in the men's halfpipe final Tuesday, the same event in which USA superstar Shaun White placed an inglorious fourth. Callister competed for Australia in Sochi and was the only Aussie in the men's final. The teen from Bend, Ore., has dual American and Australian citizenship.

Sara Studebaker – Biathlon
The Boise native started the work week with back-to-back races combining cross country skiing and target shooting. On Monday, Studebaker placed 44th in the 7.5km sprint. Tuesday she finished further back, 51st in the women’s 10km pursuit.

Simi Hamilton – Cross country skiing
The Sun Valley Olympic development team alumnus started his campaign in Sochi with a 27th place finish in the men’s individual sprint competition Tuesday. These are Hamilton’s second Olympics.

Torin Koos – Cross country skiing
The four-time Olympian from Leavenworth, Wash., also kicked off his racing in Sochi with the men’s individual sprint. Koos finished in 37th place.

Patrick Deneen - Freestyle skiing
The pride of Cle Elum, Wash., was edged out by the dominant Canadians in freestyle moguls. Deneen finished 6th in the moguls finals on Monday. Still, the result was better than the crash he suffered in the finals of the 2010 Vancouver Games.

J.R. Celski - Short track speedskating
The Federal Way, Wash., native just missed a medal in his first final in Sochi. He finished fourth in the men's 1,500-meters. Celski remains the top medal hope for the U.S. short track team.

Laurenne Ross - Alpine skiing
Ross finished eleventh on Wednesday in a women's downhill that was most notable for producing an historic tie for first place. On Monday, the 25-year-old U.S. Ski Team veteran from Bend, Ore., crashed and did not finish the super combined (a morning downhill followed by an afternoon slalom).

Jessika Jenson – Snowboarding
The Rigby, Idaho, snowboarder finished 14th in the debut of women's slopestyle at the Olympic Games (Feb. 9).

Erik Bjornsen - Cross country skiing
Bjornsen finished 39th in the men’s individual sprints on Tuesday. Earlier in the week, he placed 42nd in the skiathlon (15km classic + 15km freestyle on Feb. 9), the first of many races for the younger half of a Methow Valley, Wash., sibling duo.

Brian Gregg - Cross country skiing
Gregg finished 47th in the in the skiathlon on Feb. 9. The distance racing specialist, who was born and raised in Winthrop, Wash., will have another chance in the 50km freestyle race on the final day of the Sochi Games.

Sadie Bjornsen - Cross country skiing
Bjornsen finished in 31st place in her first Olympic race, the women's skiathlon on Feb. 8. The older half of the Methow Valley, Wash., sibling duo will race again on Thursday in the 10km classic.

Holly Brooks - Cross country skiing
Brooks skied to 47th place in the women's skiathlon on Feb. 8. This 31-year-old Seattle native, now living in Anchorage, learned to ski at Snoqualmie Pass.

The Sochi Games Opening Ceremony took place on February 7. Competition continues through Sunday, February 23.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.