076: Kelly Clark/Intrinsic Motivation

Kelly by Gabe L’Heureux

“It wasn’t just about having a twenty year career. I also wanted to enjoy it”.

I welcomed one of the true greats onto the show for episode 076: the legendary Kelly Clark.

Kelly is, without question, one of the most influential snowboarders of all time and the most successful competitive snowboarder in history – full stop. Run the numbers and you begin to understand the scale of her achievements: 20 years, nigh on 200 events, 137 podiums, 78 wins, 6 X Games medals, 8 US Open half pipe titles, two bronze and one gold medals won over the course of five Olympic Games.

Kelly has 8 US Open titles. No wonder she looks so at home in that famous pipe. Photo: Gabe L’Heureux

It’s a record that is unlikely to be bettered, and is why Kelly’s retirement, which she announced a few months ago, is a real pivotal moment in competitive snowboarding history.

I called in to see Kelly at her place on my way up to Squaw Valley, where we sat down to cast a forensic eye over this incredible career.

At the Burton Hub Show. Photo: Harry Mitchell Thompson

This is a proper in-depth geekfest of a conversation about what it takes to succeed at the highest level for over twenty years. Its about the highs, the lows, and the constant reinvention required to stay relevant and keeping progressing over such a lengthy timeframe. We also talk about the responsibility Kelly felt towards the culture of snowboarding, and how she is using her unparalleled experience to help the new generation reach even greater heights.

A classic Blotto angle from the 2017 US Open

My thanks to Kelly for coming on the show, and being so honest and open about the struggles and successes that have characterised one of the truly great snowboarding careers.

Show Notes

  • Doing the live show with Kelly and Donna Carpenter at the Burton Hub.
  • Public speaking and doing things live: “you learn by doing”.
  • First time ever in Laax.
  • “I knew there’d be a day where I’d no longer have to choose the pipe over riding powder… and that day has come”.
  • How the ‘feeling’ to move on manifested itself.
  • Attending this year’s US Open after retirement.
  • Kelly’s four year Olympic cycle life reviews.
  • How she knew she reached her potential and grateful it wasn’t a “hard-stop” to her professional career.
  • Having success at a young age: winning both the Olympics and US Open aged 18.
  • “If it was about winning, I would’ve stopped years ago”.
  • Began snowboarding aged 7, began competing aged 14.
  • What drove her as a teenager.
  • Why competitions help showcase the career you can have with snowboarding.
  • When the X Games came to her hometown Mt Snow, Vermont, aged 15.
  • First meeting her agents when she was 15, and telling them she wanted to win the Olympics.
  • Where her self-belief came from: her family and “dreaming big”, despite her dad once called snowboarding a “fad”.
  • Her ‘prove-it year’ showing her Dad she could make it as a snowboarder and not continue with school.
  • The evolution of women snowboarding.
  • Nicola Thost showing what’s possible for women.
  • The ‘End of an era’ for the girls at the Salt Lake Games.
  • The nature of all sports: “you carry it, you pioneer as long as you can, then you set people up to go further than you can”.
  • The pressures of being a returning Olympic medalist.
  • The negativity of feeling the need to defend your medals.
  • Why so many people burnout of contests.
  • On never wanting to be at the edge of her ability level.
  • Red flag: when you don’t enjoy snowboarding.
  • What she learnt from Ricky Bower.
  • Mentoring women to overcome the “enough is enough” mentality.
  • “I had to learn to risk failing over and over again so I could create a new normal”.
  • Being motivated by internal things, not external things.
  • Dealing with fear.
  • Having a long-haul support network.
  • Be comfortable in your own skin regardless of what place you ended up in.
  • Competing in the 2010 Olympics.
  • Her 1080 at X Games in 2011.
  • The moment her easy run was everyone else’s best run.
  • Having enjoyed her 20 year career is an accomplishment for her.
  • The difference between something being fun and something enjoyed.
  • The need for depth in sport for it be sustainable.
  • Becoming more of a mentor than a peer.
  • Having major hip surgery.
  • Her last run at the X Games this year.
  • 20 Years of Kelly.
  • “Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it”.
  • The essence of snowboarding is progression.
  • 20 years on: people still don’t understand the snowboarding culture.
  • The tension between competition and core snowboarding.
  • Why snowboarding is a different beast for women today.
  • What she looks forward to now.
  • Linking up the snowboarder generations at Baldface.
  • The proudest moments of her career.
  • On not being defined by your performances.

People Mentioned

  • Justin Romano
  • Donna Carpenter
  • Nicola Thost
  • Chloe Kim
  • Anne Molin Kongsgård
  • Natasza Zurek
  • Doriane Vidal
  • Ricky Bower
  • Gretchen Bleiler
  • Torah Bright
  • Elena Hight
  • Hannah Teter
  • Barret Christy
  • Shannon Dunn
  • Arielle Gold
  • Maddie Mastro
  • Owen Tozer

Places Mentioned

  • Mammoth Mountain
  • Munich
  • Folsom
  • San Francisco
  • Lake Tahoe
  • Innsbruck
  • Laax
  • Mt Snow, Vermont
  • Colorado
  • Baldface
  • Ventura
  • San Diego
  • Huntington Beach
  • Carlsbad

Companies/Brands/Organisations Mentioned