Kaitlyn Farrington remembers the first time she went snowboarding and nothing about the experience indicated she’d someday be on top of an Olympic podium.
“I mainly remember kids laughing at me,” she said in a video on TeamUSA.org.
No one is laughing at Farrington now. At age 24, the affable snowboarder from Salt Lake City is an Olympic champion. Farrington captured the gold medal in the women’s halfpipe competition on Wednesday, becoming just the third gold medalist of the Games for Team USA.
Coming into the competition, Farrington was not considered a favorite—and didn't have the name recognition of veteran teammates Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark, both former gold medalists in the event. But she had the stuff to be one of the top competitors. According to her bio at TeamUSA.org, Farrington was the first women's rider to perform a backside 900, had several top-five finishes in 2013 and has had to overcome five wrist surgeries to do it. (She shared this Instagram post from one of the surgeries, in January 2013.)
For all her high-flying antics, all the twists, twirls and grabs, Farrington knew winning the Olympic gold medal would come down to one thing: her ability to land cleanly.
Watching the U.S. men’s dismal performance the day prior clued Farrington in on what she’d be up against during her own run Wednesday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Deep, soft snow in the middle of the halfpipe befuddled riders all week long. While the Russian maintenance crews worked diligently to resolve the less-than-ideal conditions, the warm weather of subtropical Sochi was still wreaking havoc on the best and brightest snowboarders in the world.
But not Farrington.
Coming off a bronze-medal showing at the X-Games last month in Aspen, nothing could knock Farrington out of her Olympic groove.
She threw down the gauntlet early in the women’s halfpipe final and put up the high score when it counted most—her second run—to nab top honors.
Fun-loving Farrington, who digs riding the waves on her surfboard in her free time and collects refrigerator magnets when she’s not kicking butt on the halfpipe, followed up a strong 87.5 score in the semifinal round with a solid 85.75 first run in the final.
Farrington was fast and precise. She landed a pristine alley-oop to start things off and fought hard through a slight loss in momentum midway through the set to finish with a good score.
Her second run was even better.
Perhaps feeling less pressure than her competition because of her nice first run, Farrington went for it all in the second. Her amplitude was exceptional, her landings were clean and her grabs seemed longer and stronger than those of the other competitors.
Despite knowing she’d have to watch three gold medalists take their turns after her, Farrington knew she’d put herself in a great position for the podium. She yelped with excitement on her final landed trick, throwing her hands up high in the air with delight.
As she waited in front of the NBC cameras to hear what would turn out to be her gold-medal score of 91.75, Farrington couldn’t help but dance with enthusiasm.
Her run was impressive, and she knew it. With each subsequent competitor failing to top it, her smile seemed to grow larger and larger.
Farrington saw Teter, the 2006 winner, fail to stay upright on her second run. Teter’s first-run score of 90.50 would have to stand.
Teter placed fourth.
Farrington then watched 2010 gold medalist Tora Bright come oh so close to repeating as champion, but Bright teetered just enough on her final landing to finish a mere 0.25 points away from Farrington.
Bright’s 91.50 took silver.
Last to go was the 2002 gold medalist, Clark. Clark put down the only 1080 of the contest to score 90.75 and take bronze.
Farrington was all smiles afterwards and her future is bright. The solid, consistent showing when it mattered most solidified her as the athlete who can take U.S. snowboarding forward, in the tradition of Clark and Teter.
Moreover, competing in her first Olympic Games against a deep field of seasoned veterans did not show in Farrington's performance—it only really appeared on her face after she secured the title of Olympic champion.
Then it all seemed to hit her. Hardly able to contain herself, Farrington seemed to light up with energy and excitement at her accomplishment.
And why shouldn’t she?
That fifth-grader who was laughed at during her very first ride was now at the pinnacle of the sport.
Follow @KelseyMcCarson on Twitter.