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Saturday, March 12, 2011
Hometown favorite Kelly Clark wins

Associated Press

STRATTON, Vt. -- For hometown favorite Kelly Clark and Japan's Kazuhiro Kokubo, it was deja vu all over again.

Defending champions in the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships, the two captured the halfpipe titles again Saturday, shining on a day when the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the stars came out to McTwist, double cork and flip down the 500-foot pipe at Stratton Mountain.

It was a welcome change after a week that started with a two-foot snowfall, continued with fog-forced practice cancellations and saw heavy rain and dicey course conditions come and go.

"This week was very challenging, due to the weather and lack of practice," said Clark, of nearby West Dover. "I don't think a lot of us knew what to expect heading into today. But the pipe had the best shape that it's had since we got here.

"I was really happy to have put down the run that I wanted to. I didn't know if due to the conditions, I'd be limited. In the end, I ended up being able to do the exact run that I came here to do," she said.

Opening with a frontside 900 indy grab and a backside 540 mute grab, she flew high and landed her jumps crisply on all three runs. The only exception was a frontside 1080 at the end of her third, in which she faltered slightly. But by then, she'd already run up enough points on tricks and flow.

She finished with a score of 94.95, to 88.10 for fellow Vermont native Hannah Teter and 86.30 for Gretchen Bleiler.

The outcome surprised no one. Clark, a 27-year-old former Olympic gold medalist, had already won the halfpipe here four times. With fans toting cardboard "Go Kelly" signs lining the pipe and family members cheering her on, she had everything in her corner.

But the picture for the men's division was as murky as the fog that shrouded Stratton Mountain much of the week. With superstar Shaun White sidelined with a foot injury, Kokubo out to defend his crown and Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov in the mix, the title was up for grabs.

The 22-year-old Podladtchikov, of Switzerland, opened strong and led after the first run before nailing a backside double McTwist 1260 on his second.

But Kokubo overtook him. The 22-year-old from Hokkaido, Japan, turned in a brilliant run on his second try, opening with a frontside alley-oop nosebone and a frontside 900 melon grab and then a frontside double cork 1080.

By the time he took his third run, his victory was assured. So he coasted down the middle of the pipe, his helmet in his left hand, his arms outstretched, his head looking skyward.

He said through a translator afterward that he was thinking of his earthquake-ravaged homeland as he took the victory lap.

Kokubo finished with 90.10, Podladtchikov 88.60 and Kohei Kudo, of Japan, with 87.90.