Vancouver 2010 Olympics Watch: Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler
The first thing that struck me when I met 2006 Turin silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler earlier this year was how much bad ass is contained in such a little frame. After all, the five-foot-five-inch half-pipe snowboarder is best known for a daredevil trick called the Crippler 540—an inverted aerial move with one and a half rotations and a backflip. “But new for this year will be a Crippler 720,” the 28-year-old e-mailed me last week, “where you rotate 180 degrees more.” Yowsers.
Bleiler was in New York City last summer unveiling her winter 2010 Oakley snowboarding outerwear and clothing line. After having skied Park City wearing her faux-fur-trimmed jacket, flattering snow pants, and super-soft organic T-shirts a few months before, I was looking forward to seeing her new pieces. From the playful urban hints on this season’s coat—including a graffiti graphic and toggle buttons—to snowboarding pants with an adjustable gathered cuff, I nearly forgot that the blonde sartorialist walking me through her stylish collection is also a three-time X Games gold medalist who can throw down tricks that put the word “extreme” in the term “extreme sports.”
But the dichotomy between being a fashion designer and a gangster shredder isn’t Bleiler’s only contrariety. She also straddles the worlds of core and mainstream snowboarding.
“Snowboarding, from the beginning, has always been a very core sport, and at first there were a lot of riders who resisted the growth of this sport on the mainstream level—thus the Olympics—as it seemed that it represented selling out the soul of the sport. But things have changed,” she says, pointing out that now kids are growing up going to snowboarding academies and training to be Olympians. “Even though this is still a very image-conscious sport, there are riders who are able to walk the line between core and mainstream.”
Thus, in a non-Olympic year, you can find Bleiler balancing her time between backcountry boarding and competing. “What most people don’t realize is that in snowboarding there are two different aspects: the filming side and the competition side,” she says. “The filming side is when snowboarders spend the entire winter season trying to document the best, most progressive and innovative riding of the year. A lot of this riding is done in the backcountry and consists of everything from big mountain lines in places like Alaska to backcountry jumps, cliffs, and pillow lines. Urban riding is also filmed and this is riding rails in the city and any sort of creative jibbing.”
But since it’s an Olympic year, the snowboarder has her sights set on the Vancouver Winter Games and has been working out at 24 Hour Fitness every day to make sure that she’s as strong as she can be going into the season. “The Olympics have always been very special to me,” says Bleiler, who is trying to earn one of four spots on the U.S. women’s snowboarding team. There are five U.S. Olympic Grand Prix qualifiers, and a rider’s best two results are taken to determine who goes to Vancouver. The first competition was this past Saturday; Bleiler placed second behind Turin gold medalist Kelly Clark. “When I first got started in the sport it wasn’t even an Olympic sport yet, but my dream had always been to become an Olympian,” Bleiler says. “And in 2006 not only did I become an Olympian, but I became a silver medalist. I would love nothing more than to go to Vancouver and to win the gold.”
But if she doesn’t wear the gold on the Winter Games podium, at least she can wear her own clothing line back on the slopes. And how many world-class athletes, apart from soccer star David Beckham and tennis sensations the Williams sisters, can really say that?
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