Staring into the camera and on the precipice of her first Olympic medal, Kaitlyn Farrington couldn't help herself. She had to do the worm.
Farrington beamed and danced and most importantly snowboarded brilliantly, earning the United States an Olympic gold medal with her second-run score of 91.75, just barely besting Australian Torah Bright and fellow American Kelly Clark.
A semifinalist qualifier, Farrington positioned herself atop the leaderboard midway through Wednesday evening's 12-woman field and had to sweat out the final riders. Bright, the 2010 gold medalist from Vancouver, came the closest. Her 91.50 score was just narrowly short of Farrington. Clark, a 2002 gold medalist, rounded out the medal winners with her 90.75 on the day's last run.
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It was an overall triumphant evening for the United States, just a day after widespread frustration on the men's halfpipe. Shaun White, the two-time defending gold medalist in halfpipe, managed only a fourth-place finish and the United States went away empty-handed. With White and fellow American Danny Davis unable to get their way through a completely clean run in Sochi, some wondered whether their female counterparts would do the same.
Instead, a gold and a bronze (the only U.S. medals of Day 5) bring the overall medal count to nine for the U.S. Only Norway (12), Canada and the Netherlands (10 apiece) have more. The Americans have three golds, all in snowboarding.
Major shockwaves reverberated through the field during the first runs, as favorites faltered while relative underdogs moved their way toward a medal. Clark, Bright and Queralt Castellet of Spain, the top three qualifiers coming into Wednesday, each slammed the deck on their first run to put all the pressure on their final run.
Jiayu Liu, a hopeful medalist for the Chinese who finished fourth in Vancouver, had a disastrous first run. Coming out aggressive on her run, Liu attempted a 900 and seemingly had the rotations, but was unable to stick the landing. With just one more opportunity to get into medal contention, Liu managed just a 68.25 in her second run to finish far out of the conversation.
Clark, in particular, was a surprise. The top-ranked halfpipe boarder was selected by the Associated Press as the overwhelming favorite and was the top scorer during the qualifying run. Initially on pace for another run in the 90s after landing a 1080, Clark pushed her limit and hit hard off the front of the jump, tumbling to the deck and surprising many in the crowd.
It was an uncharacteristic fall from Clark, who came into the final noting her preparedness has been the key to her ascent to the top of the world rankings, per Pat Graham of the Associated Press (via The Sacramento Bee):
There's a big difference between having potential and being prepared. I've been in the Olympics before where I had a lot of potential but I haven't necessarily been prepared. They've been stressful and they've been intense and I've been disappointed. So I worked really hard to get my own personal level really high.
John Branch of The New York Times also seemed surprised by just how badly Clark misjudged her landing:
Kelly Clark takes brutal, uncharacteristic fall, hitting lip and falling backward to bottom of pipe. Teter, Farrington 1-2 in first round— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) February 12, 2014
The struggles of the American favorite opened the field for two of her countrywomen.
Relatively unheralded coming into Sochi, Farrington quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with. She dwarfed everyone's score in the semifinal with a 87.50 in her first run to advance to the final and continued her hot streak on Wednesday.
A first run of 85.75 put Farrington into first place for a short while. She landed a backside 720 and was smooth throughout, with her blemishes being mostly related to quick grabs and lack of an overwhelming trick to wow the judges.
Farrington's time in first place lasted right until Hannah Teter took the slopes. Going through her opening run with a series of tricks mostly on par with Farrington, Teter saved her best trick for last to pull into first place. She threw down a stealthy 1080 with her last trick; the two-time Olympic medalist scored a 90.50 to go into the final run as the leader.
With the prospect of maybe even being pushed out of medal competition, though, Farrington thrived. Her second run was better than her first, smoothly gliding through an almost flawless run that seemed destined for the 90s. When the score came back, the 24-year-old was initially subdued before giving way to her excitement. She was seen laughing and dancing around in jubilation, giving more weight to an already surprising run.
As noted by Skyler Wilder of NBC Olympics, Farrington's triumph was all the more surprising considering she completely changed her run coming into the final:
In earning gold, Farrington may have become the face of women's snowboarding in the United States. Clark and Teter will both be in their 30s come the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, which is young in actual life but elderly in the youth-driven sport of snowboarding. White, 27, is even considered an aging veteran on the men's side.
Farrington, meanwhile, still has plenty of time on her side and even more momentum. For now, though, she'll be more than satisfied to worm her way into the Sochi night with a gold medal around her neck.
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