BARDONECCHIA, Italy—It was a such a beautiful Monday afternoon that snowboarders Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler caught a lift up the mountain to do a little free riding.
The halfpipe final they had qualified for, at the bottom of the hill, was only 20 minutes away.
The beautiful afternoon, amid the towering Alps and a beneath a bright blue sky, became the most glorious day of their athletic careers.
Teter, 19, looking carefree, soared and spun gracefully to a triumph worthy of an Olympic gold medal.
Bleiler, 24, smiling and raising her arms to rev the crowd before each of her runs, put together a beautiful routine near the end of the competition to claim the silver.
"It was an absolutely unbelievable day today," said Bleiler, who barely missed qualifying for the 2002 Olympics at Salt Lake City. "The Olympics and medaling at the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, and I worked so hard to get where I am and it's an unbelievable feeling."
The powerful U.S. team's chance to sweep the medals, a goal many said would be realized, fell short as Kelly Clark, the gold medalist in 2002, was edged for the bronze by Kjersti Buass of Norway.
"I never thought it was possible," said Buass, who finished fourth at the Salt Lake City Olympics. "They said [I was] the last European against the Americans and I thought, 'The whole of Europe is depending on me.'
"I tried to go big and I came down and I was second and was, like -- 'What?' -- and I couldn't believe it. I was really, really happy."
After the first round of qualifying, it looked as though a U.S. sweep -- something the men's halfpipe team accomplished in 2002 -- was imminent. Clark posted the top score of 44.9 out of a possible 50, followed by Bleiler's 41.6 and Teter's 39.9. By finishing in the top six they automatically advanced to the final.
(The fourth member of the U.S. team, Elena Hight, 16, advanced to the final on her second qualifying run and eventually finished sixth.)
Teter and Bleiler then embarked on their powder search and when asked after the competition why they had taken such a risk -- especially by venturing out of bounds -- Bleiler reminded reporters what sport they were covering.
"That's what snowboarding is all about," she said. "It's not about sticking to a routine. This is what snowboarding is all about."
As for the routines performed within and above the 18-foot walls of the 450-foot U-shaped halfpipe, there were good ones and bad ones, the worst being that of Japan's Melo Imai, who smacked her board and body into the lip of the pipe, then slid down in a heap. She was airlifted to a Turin hospital with a shoulder injury.
In the 12-woman final, where the riders kept the best of two scores, Teter, Bleiler and Clark maintained their 1-2-3 status after the first round.
Teter, of Belmont. Vt., drew roars from the audience with near-flawless routine that included a frontside 540-degree rotation, two rocketing board-grab aerials, a frontside 900 and a CabÖ 540 (performed switch-stanced, or backward).
In the second round, Buass had moved into second with 42.0, knocking Clark from third to fourth, but Bleiler responded with a 43.4 to move back into second, pushing Buass into third.
Clark, on her final run, looked to be making a high-flying charge for the gold but she fell on her last maneuver -- a frontside 900 -- and ended her chance for medals in consecutive Olympics.
"I had the best run of my life up to that point, and even the  was the best one I'd ever done," she said afterward. "I just came up a little bit in the backseat and didn't land it. But getting to go through something like the Olympics with your best friends and stuff ¼ it couldn't be any better."
Especially so for Teter, who bettered her first run with a "victory lap" routine that scored 46.4. Afterward, the bubbly blond e was asked if winning Olympic gold would change her life.
"I'm still going to do my yoga," she said, drawing chuckles. "And just still be grateful. I came into this just having faith, feeling supported. I don't think I'm going to change.
"Maybe smile a little bit brighter. Get my teeth whitened for the cameras. Definitely have to bring my [hair] straightener everywhere I go."
After all, she implied, an Olympic champion has to look the part.
Pete Thomas is a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.