Twenty Years, 20 Firsts celebrates the 20-year legacy of the X Games in action sports with a collection of 20 of the most iconic first-trick moments in X Games history. Between March and X Games Austin (June 5-8), XGames.com will roll out the top 20 firsts, including moments such as Travis Pastrana's groundbreaking double backflip and Shaun White's perfect SuperPipe score, and the stories behind them. Now, fans can vote for their favorite moment.
On Jan. 28, 2011, in Aspen, Colorado, Kelly Clark sat at the top of a gleaming, well-lit 22-foot halfpipe preparing to take her final X Games run. She had already clinched her fourth X Games win with an earlier run, and had two options remaining: One, take a victory lap, or two, continue to push the level of women's snowboarding. Clark chose the latter.
For the three years leading up to that night, Clark had been on the hunt to nail a frontside 1080. The trick had been predicted to mean a guaranteed gold to whoever would have landed it at the 2010 Winter Olympics the year before. But the Olympic season had come and gone without a frontside 1080 landed by Clark or any of the other women in the competitive halfpipe field.
Now, with the Olympic pressure off and the X Games SuperPipe gold already in the bag, Clark had nothing to lose. So on her third and final run of the night, she turned what could have been a victory lap into a mark in the history books, not only landing the first frontside 1080 in woman's snowboarding history, but doing it nearly flawlessly 10 feet out of the pipe.
At that point in her career Clark was already one of the most recognizable names in the sport. She had already competed in three Olympic Games, winning two Olympic medals -- gold in Salt Lake City and bronze in Vancouver.
She'd won every major event and every "best of" season title countless times, but this victory was different: This was Clark's first "first." The frontside 1080 was the first trick that legitimately belonged to her, and no one else.
"It's different than just a win," Clark said. "It's amazing to be the first person to do anything. As soon as someone opens the door then it becomes possible and that's what I like more."
Clark recalled watching men's snowboarding experience this same growth spurt with the 1080 in the mid-2000s followed by double corks in 2010. "I remember watching the men progress to the 1080, and what it was like to see them pass that barrier," she said. "I wanted to pursue that."
By 2011 Clark was ready to cross that barrier alone. While other riders tend to sit back after a stressful Olympic season, heading to the backcountry, or just take a breaking from the contest circuit, Clark pushed on with new motives.
"Our sport sees a surge in progression every Olympic year," Clark said. "I'd been through the Olympic process several times and I'd come out [of the 2010 Olympics] with the desire to call my own shots.
"It's easy to be a competitor and do things you have to because it's an Olympic year. But I really wanted to be intentional with snowboarding and do the runs that I wanted to do, not because it's time for the Olympic show. That night, landing the 1080 was way more important than the win."
Three years later, a handful of other riders have now landed the trick, but Clark is still the only woman to successfully incorporate the trick into her run. It's still the trick that puts her on the top of podium at nearly ever event she enters. But Clark is not one to sit back and wait for the world to catch up. She's already set her sights set on an even bigger challenge: back-to-back 1080s.
"In order to really work on my tricks I have to set my personal bar at a really high level and look to myself and to raise my own bar," Clark said.
At 30 years old, Clark shows no signs of slowing down, and with Sochi out of the way we just might see another Clark first at X Games Aspen 2015.