Published February 18, 2010
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Torah Bright's parents drove six hours, flew 20 more, then hid in a closet at their daughter's place in Vancouver so they could surprise her later.
These are the lengths people go to celebrate a gold medal at the Winter Games for Australia.
Bright sure made the surprise trip worth it for her folks, bringing a timely flash of exellence to an otherwise messy night on the halfpipe Thursday to win Australia's fourth winter gold.
"I burst into tears," Bright said of her reaction when she spotted her parents, Marion and Peter, in the stands after the winning run. "I told them to stay home. But it's the Olympics. Of course, they were going to come."
Bright overcame a fall on her first run to score 45 points on the second and defeat defending champion Hannah Teter by 2.6. The 2002 champion, Kelly Clark, fell on her first run, hit the deck on an awkward landing on her second but still took bronze.
The Brights came all the way from Cooma, about a six-hour drive from Sydney in the New South Wales, to see their girl cap a wild, four-year quest filled with injuries, experiments and, ultimately, victory.
This was Australia's eighth overall medal in its short, not-so-illustrious stint as a Winter Games competitor.
"We're not known for our winters," Bright said. "We do have snow, but we're known for our white sand beaches and our waves."
And one heck of a snowboarder.
Bright won without trying the "double cork" — the double-flipping jump she'd been practicing all year, one that's increasingly popular on the men's side but hasn't yet been tried by a woman in competition.
But she wasn't looking to make history — only to win gold, and she was more than good enough to do that on a night when all the top contenders fell.
"It's never what you're looking to do, fall on your first run," Clark said. "But a lot of us had ourselves in that position tonight."
Others who fell included 2006 silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler, who fell once while trying her inverted 720 on the first run, then again on the second when the nose of her board caught the lip and she landed hard on the deck then crashed back into the halfpipe.
Bleiler finished 11th, one spot behind another American, Elena Hight.
Bright also fell on her first run — while she was trying a switch-backside 720, a two-spin jump during which she spends most of her air time with no view of the wall. It's an amazingly difficult trick that even most men won't try.
The fall left her with a score of 5.9, in last place, which forced her to rush back up the hill and go first in the second round. She dusted herself off, did the same progression of tricks, landed them all, then waited for nearly 30 minutes to see if someone could beat her.
Nobody did, and when Teter closed the night by losing speed toward the end of her trip, giving her no chance to soar high above the pipe, the deal was done.
"Not the end of the world. I fell. It happens," Bright said. "On the second run, I knew I was going to go do what I always do."
She did, and afterward shared a long, sweet hug with her brother and coach, Ben.
She received a call from the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. "Lovely," she called it.
Then, the most lovely surprise of all: Her folks in the stands.
She had no idea how they got there. No idea they were actually at her Olympic house when she returned from training the day before.
"They were hiding in a closet just so I wouldn't see them," she said, cracking up at the thought of such a thing.
Ben Bright was also in the dark about his folks coming. Maybe it was for the best.
"Torah and I were just really focused on the event. We'd sacrificed a lot for this moment from traveling the world, leaving home at such a young age," he said. "Everyone's here tonight, so it's great."
Two more medals wasn't exactly a bad night for America, the country that owns the halfpipe like no other. Counting the pair won the previous night by Shaun White and Scotty Lago, the United States has now taken 14 of the 24 medals awarded in halfpipe since it came to the Olympics in 1998.
Clark now has a bronze to put behind the glass, alongside the gold medal that's on display at her parents restaurant in Vermont.
Teter picks up another prize, and the money she receives for silver will go to Haitian earthquake relief via one of her many charities.
But there was no gold.
"Torah's run was super motivating," Teter said. "You know you had to be on your game if you wanted to take it, because she was exceptional and just inspiring."
Even with Bright's big finish, the women certainly didn't put on the same kind of show White did the night before.
The men's contest was one only in name — the suspense having nothing to do with who would win, but how White would do it.
He did it with flair. White had the victory sealed after his opening run, but decided to use the second trip down the pipe to put on a show. He pulled off his Double McTwist 1260 — newly dubbed the "Tomahawk" — the crowd went crazy and the performance went to the top of the archives in a sport that's long been as much about putting on a show as winning.
After a strong qualifying round, the women came off and said White inspired them to put on a good show, too. It was a little less than that, but they certainly kept people guessing.
In the end, though, Bright's victory was no big surprise.
She has long had the daring to push the women's side of the sport to a new level; her big problem has been staying healthy enough to do it.
At the Turin Olympics four years ago, she felt her shoulder pull out of joint on the first jump of her first run in the finals. What followed was, essentially, a long string of taping things together to compete, and it worked. She won the Winter X Games in 2007 and 2009.
Finally, though, she had to submit to surgery. Working her way back into shape for the Olympics, she discovered she could pull off two flips.
She was working on it, thinking very much about bringing it to Vancouver, but suffered a setback when she slammed her head on the pipe not once, but twice, over three days of practice at the X Games last month.
She didn't do the trick, but ended up with the prize she wanted.
"I was pretty stoked with that considering my last month," she said.
She'll pick up the gold medal Friday at a ceremony in Vancouver. She'll bring her parents with her — but the cheering section won't stop there.
"It means every girl in Australia is going to want to buy a snowboard," said Bright's teammate, Holly Crawford.