Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sun Valley Snowboarder Grabs Olympic Gold In Sochi

Sarah Brunson
U.S. Snowboarding
Olympic gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington

A snowboarder raised in Sun Valley, Idaho soared over better known and more experienced rivals to grab the gold medal in women's halfpipe at the Winter Olympics.

You could say a pipe dream came true Wednesday for 24-year-old Kaitlyn Farrington.

Defending Olympic champion Torah Bright of Australia took silver and American teammate Kelly Clark won the bronze on a spring-like evening under the lights.

"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," said Farrington. "So to come out on top -- I just can’t believe it."

At her old stomping grounds, the Olympic snowboard showdown played 'live' on a big TV screen in the training room of the Sun Valley ski and snowboard team.

Ski education foundation director Rob Clayton says work stopped. There was excited tension. Then what Clayton calls "almost shock and disbelief" when Farrington rode into first place. When no one could top her clean, daredevil run, Farrington's infectious smile grew wider and she started bouncing with joy.

Speaking afterwards at the mountain venue above Sochi, Farrington recalled, "I can’t believe I was sitting there in front of the last three gold medalists. It’s crazy. Snowboarding is changing so much. It’s anybody’s game on any day."

U.S. Snowboarding described the series of high-flying tricks in the gold medal run with the inimitable halfpipe lingo: "Pop tart, switch backside 720, backside 900, alley-oop 540, backside 540, frontside 720."

Back in Ketchum, Idaho, Clayton says the training room erupted in giddy celebration.

"It's gotta be one of the best stories in the Olympics, right? Where she's from, what her parents sacrificed along the way to give her the opportunities. Her down-home, genuine personality," says Clayton. "The whole thing is just a terrific story."

Farrington grew up on a ranch on the outskirts of Bellevue, Idaho. She learned to snowboard beginning at age five and has had five wrist surgeries since then.

A few years ago when she was still a rookie, Farrington described to me how the ranch's cattle herd shrunk to pay her way to national and international competitions.

“When I first started to go on trips and stuff it was expensive," she said. "My dad ended selling a cow each time I had to go on a trip. We don’t have any cows at the moment, I don't think, because my dad had to sell them all so I could snowboard."

The Sun Valley Company and others have already begun planning a gold medal homecoming parade for whenever Farrington returns to Idaho.

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