The Grind: Snowboarder Kelly Clark On Prepping For The Olympics

Switzerland Snowboard European Open
APKelly Clark

By Angela Haupt

The 1080 is the kind of trick the snowboarding world takes seriously – really seriously. It's a move that separates the elite from the wannabes, that shows who's willing to push the sport's limits and, literally, ride to new heights.

Which is why it was fitting – and a big deal – when Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark became the first woman in history to pull one off in competition in 2011, perfectly executing the 1,080-degree spin, or three revolutions midair.

But that's just another day in the life of Clark, 30, of Dover, Vt., who also regularly shows off moves like the 900, or completing two and a half rotations while spinning at 495 degrees per second. She's the most accomplished athlete in men's and women's snowboarding history, with a résumé that includes three Olympic appearances, four U.S. Grand Prix titles and 11 X Games medals.

In an interview with U.S. News, Clark dishes on how she's prepping for the Games, both physically and mentally:

How are you feeling in these weeks leading up to Sochi?

APClark at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
I was fortunate enough to qualify for the Olympics before Christmas. I kind of unloaded my plate and didn't have to be conservative to make the team after that – I could put myself in competitive, technically challenging situations. I've had the privilege of this opportunity several times now, and I know there's a difference between having potential and being prepared. And for me, it's been all about being prepared.

What's your daily diet like?

The name of the game for me is "eat enough." I focus a lot on recovery food – I demand a lot out of my body on a daily basis, so I have to make sure that after I work out or train, I'm constantly replenishing myself. That means a lot of protein bars and smoothies, and it means in-between meals.

My meals themselves aren't super strict or special: it's protein, carbs, veggies, salads and stuff like that that's pretty basic. It's just a well-balanced diet.

So what's a typical breakfast?

Coffee is always in the mix, and water is shortly behind that. If I'm home I juice, but when I'm on the road I usually have smoothies. So maybe a berry smoothie in the morning (with yogurt and a berry mix), some OJ in there, and then I usually have eggs, toast and bacon. It could be an omelet or sandwich, just some form of that.

Are you still working out in the gym pre-Sochi?

I'm in the gym six days a week. Right now, it's focusing on recovery and maintenance, not necessarily strength building – which is more my focus from May to the end of November.

You've said that you aim to train smarter, rather than harder. Why is that important?

Traditionally, stereotypes would maybe say that snowboarding is a young person's sport. I just rounded 30 this year, and I can definitely tell you that my body doesn't respond as quickly or recover as quickly as it used to. And from that perspective, I have to be smarter with my training. I can't go out and do five days on the hill straight. It's usually three days on; one day off. I have to prioritize my rest a little bit more, and if I don't go to the gym after riding one day, I feel it the next day. It's a bit more of an investment than it used to be. All that being said, the sport has progressed, where it's more physically demanding than it's ever been as well. So from both a performance and an injury prevention standpoint, it's required.

What do you love about snowboarding?

APClark soars above the crowd at the Women's U.S. Open Snowboard Halfpipe championships in 2002.
I love that you can be creative, and I love that you can progress and bring your own style into things. But I think what keeps me coming back is that you're never going to be the best. It's always changing. It's impossible to be perfect. I always compare it to golf – you can be good, but you're never going to be the best. And there isn't a day that I go out there and I'm not challenged, and I think that's why I can still be so motivated and enjoy it so much after 15 years of competing.

How do you get into the right mental mindset to compete so successfully?

I don't want to say I isolate myself, but I definitely protect the environment I'm in, and that helps me perform at a high level. I listen to music when I compete to protect what I hear, for example, so I can stay focused on the task at hand. I don't need to be thinking about what the announcers are saying or what my competitors are saying; I need to stay focused on the process that I'm in, because I never want to get ahead of myself and think about the outcome. I find that you're not able to perform well when you're focused on the outcome and step outside the process.

I've also been working with a sports psychologist for the last four years. I think people can look to athletics and say it's all physical, or it's all mental, but at the end of the day – physically, no one can do what we do on snowboards. It's got to be 95 percent physical; your average person couldn't just drop in and figure it out. But that 5 percent mental can completely erase your 95 percent of prep work if you allow it to.

What are you most looking forward to about this year's Olympics?

I've learned that the Olympics shouldn't be treated as a destination. And they're not a place that you arrive at – they're not something that should define you. My experience has given me that perspective, and that was something that was very successful for me at the last Olympics – I really enjoyed it. I don't want to get done and be relieved it's over. I want to enjoy it. I want to be excellent. I want to see if I have what it takes, and I want to give it my all. I think it should be fun, because that's why I started snowboarding.

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