Will Gretchen Bleiler Spin a 1080 into Olympic Snowboarding Gold?
Gretchen Bleiler is peaking at the right time. The 28-year-old snowboarder "went to a whole other level" at the Winter X Games last month to claim her record fourth superpipe title. "It feels amazing to win that. I finally stepped up to my potential," she tells TVGuide.com. "I know I'm capable of doing more at the Olympics." The Aspen, Colo., native, who nabbed silver in Torino, is back to win gold and is contemplating a never-before-landed trick in the women's competition to help her do it: the 1080 (three revolutions in the air).
TVGuide.com: I don't think I've ever seen you go as big as you did at the X Games. How much confidence and momentum did that whole run give you?
Gretchen Bleiler: That's what everyone's telling me! I think I just finally surrendered and said, "I'm going to have fun and I'm going to do the best run I can." This is exactly what I needed — to compete so well in front of my community, my friends and family. ... The crash [at last year's X Games] sort of haunted me. I rode with hesitation the rest of the season. But I've been working hard ... physically and mentally it's made me stronger. I definitely hit my low point. Now I came back to the same pipe and did the same hit — frontside 900 — and won, right before the Olympics.
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TVGuide.com: You withdrew from the X Games before Torino. Why did you decide to compete this time?
Bleiler: The experience in 2006 was really different. At the end of the [Olympic] qualifying process, I was just mentally exhausted. The night of finals, I was crazy in my head and I knew that could potentially open myself up to injury, so I withdrew. This time, I didn't do as well at qualifiers, but mentally, it didn't exhaust me as much, so I felt good.
TVGuide.com: Double corks are huge on the men's side and Torah Bright is practicing a double cork 9. Do you feel pressured to do one?
Bleiler: I don't. I don't at all. I actually was thinking about it earlier this season. But the Olympics has always been more about amplitude and perfection and execution. At this point, if you don't have it — that's such a big trick too — it's going to take a long time to learn it. I'm not worried about it. It's about taking what my strengths are now and maybe adding another rotation. Things like that. The 9 I threw at X was a little off-axis and that's why I think it was so big. But throwing a totally new trick at this point is just — I don't think it's smart.
TVGuide.com: So are you saying we will see a 1080 from you?
Bleiler: [Laughs] Maybe! We'll see! That 9 came around so easily at the X Games that I know I'm capable of doing a 10, and it'll be really cool to be the first to land one at the Olympics. I know the 10 is in Kelly [Clark, the 2002 gold medalist]'s head as well. It's like the minute someone does it, we're all going do it and I know we're all capable. That's definitely in my head now. I feel like the amplitude I had for that 9 would be enough for a 10. I just have to spin it a little more efficiently and go harder.
Get the lowdown on Bleiler and the whole U.S. women's Olympic snowboard team
TVGuide.com: You have your own line with Oakley. As a fashion designer, what do you think of the "flannel and jeans" snowboard uniforms?
Bleiler: Well, of course, I'd love to be wearing my own stuff! [Laughs] But it's important to have a uniform here. It's no longer about me — I'm representing myself, my sport, my family and my country. To be wearing the same uniform fires me up so much. It's a bigger-picture perspective, like how me and the girls [Clark, 2006 gold medalist Hannah Teter and Elena Hight] are talking about hopefully sweeping [the podium]. It makes you feel like you're in it together. That's going to be our goal.
TVGuide.com: Between the line, your own lip balm and modeling, how do you balance everything?
Bleiler: I think I've learned how to compartmentalize. After winning a medal, you get whisked away for all these media opportunities. Hannah and I dropped the flag at the Daytona 500. It was crazy and so much fun, but now I've learned to figure out what my priorities are and say yes or no to opportunities as they come. When I'm on the mountain, I'm just thinking about snowboarding and nothing else. My art teacher in high school said the busiest people are the most efficient people. You're forced to be on it and you have to be balanced when you're busy.
TVGuide.com: How do you look back on Torino?
Bleiler: I have the best memories ever. I've wanted to be an Olympian since I was 3 years old and I have zero regrets. I rode the best I had ever ridden at that point. Even though I got second, I landed my perfect run for that day and that's all you can ask for in a judged sport. So I want go to Vancouver with the exact same mentality. I never thought I'd be a two-time Olympian, so this is a bonus.
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TVGuide.com: You missed making the 2002 team because of a tiebreaker and you got silver last time, so what would a gold mean here?
Bleiler: It's the one thing I haven't gotten yet in snowboarding. It's huge. Of course it's a goal, but focusing on that is definitely not the way I look at it. I want to land my perfect run because I can't do any more than that. ... My husband [Chris Hotell] visualizes me winning. He'll call me and go, "I just had the best visualization of you winning! It was amazing!" [Laughs] He's so supportive — my whole family is. I have a group of, like, 25 coming. My mom had been working on tickets for the past year and a half. They have a house and bus passes, so they're coming and are going to be loud and rowdy and I love that!
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TVGuide.com: Any athletes you want to meet or events you want to see?
Bleiler: I've met some really awesome athletes already [leading up to the games]. I met Apolo [Anton Ohno], J.R. Celski, Evan Lysacek, Angela Ruggiero, and it's cool because we're in touch and are cheering each other on by text. I really want to try to see some of their events. That's another huge part of the Olympics — cheering on your friends in different sports. It makes it so much bigger than your event and what you're doing.