Winter Olympics 2014: Will Women Snowboarders Rescue Team USA's Medal Count?

Scott HarrisMMA Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2014

American snowboarder Kelly Clark
American snowboarder Kelly ClarkMikhail Metzel/Associated Press

If Team USA is to pull out of its medal tailspin, the catalyst won't come from the usual suspects. It won't come from a streamlined speedskater, a picturesque alpine ski course or some elegant figure-skating royals.

Nope, it will come from Winter Olympics' equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys. That's right, those grinning vagabonds, those long-hairs covered in cargo pockets: the snowboarders. That's where your redemption will come from, Bob Costas. What have you to say to that?

There's something faintly cinematic and overtly hilarious about it. The young sport that continues to elicit tongue-clucks and eyebrow lifts from the punditocracy also happens to be something that the Americans are pretty darn good at. Both U.S. gold medals of these Games came from snowboard events, and with two Americans in the medal hunt at Wednesday's women's snowboard halfpipe, those lovable faux-slackers could suddenly be handling more than a fair share of their nation's Olympic load.  

And make no mistake, Team USA needs someone to step up. Sure, seven medals isn't a terrible total. But after a lackluster Tuesday that saw favorites like cross-country skier Kikkan Randall, ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson and, yes, snowboard kingpin Shaun White fail to reach the podium, the overall haul isn't quite what fans had expected it to be, and it is losing ground to Norway, Canada and the Netherlands.

And the cavalry isn't exactly thundering down Norway's neck, either. The American curling teams, currently in action, are virtually moribund. Ditto the figure skaters. No biathletes or skiers or lugers or skeleton sliders or bobsledders are considered podium locks this time around, either. That doesn't mean it can't happen in those sports; they're just not surefire bets for the Americans in Sochi.

Something has to hold the line while we wait for hockey to heat up. That's where the snowboarders come in. Yes, White fell down on the job. But the ladies have a good chance to pick it back up.

Two ladies in particular—Kelly Clark and Arielle Gold—could take halfpipe hardware for the Americans. Two-time medalist Hannah Teter is a comparative dark horse, but also is in the field.

Many expect Clark, fresh off an X Games win in this event, to take the gold in Sochi. She is 30 years old in a younger person's sport, but appears to be peaking. Her big arsenal of moves, including the two 1080s she tried in a single X Games run, are unequaled.  

Gold is, at 17 years old, less polished, but plenty talented. And Gold already has gold pedigree, having captured top honors in the halfpipe at the 2013 world snowboarding championships. (And at age 16, she was the second-youngest athlete to ever do so.) The Colorado native and halfpipe specialist has plenty of confidence and pulls plenty of air whenever she launches off a ramp.

Teter is always dangerous, though the 26-year-old did struggle to even make it to Sochi. But the seasoned competitor could surprise people with a big run on Wednesday.

To date, Team USA has won half of the medals in women's Olympic halfpipe history (six). It'll have to hold off Australian superstar Torah Bright and a strong contingent to keep it going. Will it get it done? Who knows? Does it have the ability? It sure does, and more so than any other sport currently in progress in Sochi. Two medals on Wednesday would push the U.S. to nine, and right back near the top of the medal table.

Still want them off your lawn?