Humble, soft-spoken and shy, yes, but raucous? No way.
Yet, her gold-medal performance Sunday in women’s half-pipe snowboarding caused crowds to erupt on the hill, in this historic ski town, as if she were Britney Spears. When she arrived unannounced Tuesday night at Mountain Logic, a ski specialty store just steps from the Park City Ski Resort where she had struck gold the day before — her medal now firmly planted around her neck — the mostly male crowd of riders cheered and whistled wildly. The 18-year-old waved and lowered her head in embarrassment.
In an unlikely combination of sports and music, Spears surprised Clark, a serious fan of the “I’m Not So Innocent” songstress, on the “Tonight Show” Monday night. Clark told host Jay Leno that she planned to hang her medal near Spears’s autographed picture that says “Rip It Up.”
Unaware that Spears was sitting in on the taped-delay segment and had watcher her Olympic performance during the limo ride to the studio, the crowd went crazy and Spears said: “All I want now is Kelly’s autograph.”
“It was so awesome,” Clark told WWD in an interview Monday night, shaking her head in disbelief. “I was in such shock I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t believe it — Britney Spears.”
That wide-eyed innocence was evident again as Clark looked up at Mountain Logic’s wide-screen TV and said, “Look. there’s Ross,” referring to Ross Powers, a fellow Burton-sponsored athlete who had struck gold in men’s snowboarding earlier in the day.
Ignoring a hairline stress fracture suffered on her right wrist in practice a few weeks ago, Clark welcomed autograph seekers like they were doing her a favor. That’s not so surprising for an Olympian who during Sunday’s awards ceremony pulled the silver and bronze medalists — France’s Dorianne Vidal and Switzerland’s Fabienne Reuteler — on to the upper-tier of the podium following the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Dressed in a pair of black snowboarding pants, red boots and her blue U.S. Olympic jacket from the opening ceremonies, Clark, like snowboarding’s point man Jake Burton and many of the other riders, kept her wool hat on indoors — it’s a look. Clark’s critique of the Roots uniform, the U.S. snowboarding team’s competition gear and several other things Olympian: “OK” by her.
Her take on snowboarding, however, was a real lift.
“I knew Sunday I had to relax or I wouldn’t do it,” she said. “I listen to my minidisc all the time. I like mixes from the Eighties and Britney Spears, Madonna and Blink 182.”
The typical night-before insomnia was not an issue for Clark, since she was “so tired” from Friday’s opening ceremonies. Instead of staying in the Olympic Village, like many other athletes, she opted to be closer to the competition site, and slumbered in a Park City condo until 7 a.m on race day. Not such a stretch, considering she once said, “I don’t think snowboarding needs contests, but they are fun to participate in.”
As for the twists and turns she nailed on the half pipe with the precision of a fine tailor handstitching a Saville suit, Clark said: “I try to have as much personal style as I can to make the most twists and stand out for the judges.”
Off the mountain, her sense of style is more nondescript. Clark sad she favors “buttoned-up shirts and corny stuff” from places like the Gap. Asked about her favorite labels, she offered — no surprise — Burton and Oakley, her main sponsors for the moment.
“Prada, Escada,” interjected her agent, Erich Schneider, senior associate of the Olympics and Action Sports division at Octagon in Portland, Maine, and then relinquished: “She really is a prepster gone awry.”
But the truth is that she may soon be able to afford those designer labels, which is quite a trick for a teenage snowboarder who deferred her first year of college to spend more time training. Based on this week’s onslaught of calls that Schneider has received from potential sponsors, he expects her salary to easily hit “high six digits” and possibly break $1 million should the economy rally.
Schneider said sponsors across all kinds of categories, from breakfast foods to financial services, have already come calling for Clark. But at this point, she’s still oblivious to her corporate suitors.
“He’s my interference,” Clark said. “That’s good.”
After Sunday’s win, she called her agent en route to the mandatory “doping” test. His congratulatory words were met with, ‘Yeah, it was a great day.” Like fellow Vermonter Ross, another athlete Schneider reps, Clark is “so grounded,” he said.
“She’s so real,” he said. “She is always talking about how others rode.”
But she has been certain about her goal. The first time Clark met the Octagon executive a few years back, she told him she wanted to go to the Olympics.
“That was pretty bold for a 15-year-old,” Schneider said.
After “not having it” on her first Olympic run, Clark pulled it together and “just stomped it,” on her second run, Burton said.
“The most impressive thing about her is her incredible attitude. Obviously, she’s got the skills, but mentally she’s unflappable,” he said. “Nerves are a big part of this, as much as they are for figure skating or golf.”
To calm her nerves away from the mountain, Clark mountain bikes and surfs near her parents’ place in Newport, R.I. But there will be none of that this week. The folks at Access Hollywood are lining up a meeting with her and Spears.