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A Torah Bright, shiny gold medal in halfpipe

CYPRESS, British Columbia — Torah Bright slid to a stop

after a near-perfect halfpipe run and put her hands on her head.

No one told her what her score was. The judges hadn't even

announced it.

But the Australian snowboarder and practicing Mormon who makes her home in Salt

Lake City knew she'd likely achieved what she's been working toward most of her

life — an Olympic gold medal.

"It's been six years in the making," said her

brother and coach Ben Bright of the winning run that featured a trick that no

other woman has done, a switch backside 720. "That was the plan. That was

the gold-medal run."

It was a gratifying moment for coach and athlete, for

brother and sister, after the disappointment in Torino four years ago and

recent injuries that threatened to keep her from redemption Thursday night at

Cypress Mountain in front of a full house. In that rowdy crowd, which included

shirtless Aussies with Torah's name painted on their chests, were her parents,

Marion and Peter, who she didn't know were in attendance until after her

winning run.

"I told them I'd rather have them at my wedding in the

Salt Lake Temple than at the Olympics," she said laughing after blowing

away the competition with a 45-point run. "I should have known they were

going to come."

When her brother told her they were among the rowdies, she

burst into tears.

__IMAGE1__Bright, 23, stood atop the podium, finally, as an Olympic

champion for Australia, her hometown of Cooma and her family. She shared the podium

with two Americans — Hannah Teter, the defending Olympic champion, won silver

with a score of 42.4; and Kelly Clark, the 2002 gold medalist who placed fourth

in Torino, won bronze with 42.2 points.

"My parents have taught me ever since I was young, if

you're going to do something, give it your best shot," she said. "And

that's what I've done with my snowboarding."

Bright's Olympic hopes dimmed last month when, in the span

of four weeks, she suffered three concussions. The most serious one was at the

X Games.

Her mother came home from work, turned on the television and

saw her daughter being carried out of the pipe, head hanging limply at the X

Games, just two weeks before the Games.

Bright, the fourth of five outdoor-loving children,

dislocated her jaw just before Christmas. She was in the pipe practicing when

U.S. snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a concussion that put him in a coma for

weeks.

There was a moment when her mother thought maybe this

Olympic endeavor just wasn't worth it.

"I told her, through her sister, just forget it,"

Marion said. "As a mother, it's horrifying. I hate when they get banged

up."

After the jaw injury, things seemed to get worse for Torah.

"She had a terrible lead up to the Olympics," said

Marion Bright after hugging her daughter. "She hasn't been on snow since

the X Games. She's had three concussions since the new year. That's what it

takes to get a gold medal."

And while there was some discussion whether or not Bright

should compete, her mother said she always knew she would.

"I think she was always going to do it," said her

fiance Jake Welch.

Bright has worked too hard in pioneering her sport to watch

from the sideline.

""It's such a special event," Bright said.

"There's no doubt about it. There are different energies about this. The

whole of Australia tunes in for this. They don't tune in for X Games."

Bright planned to score big on her first run and then decide

what she needed to do to win. She qualified in first place, but like Clark and

American Gretchen Bleiler (who finished), she fell and had only one run to make

that dream come true.

"The plan was to land that first run," she said,

laughing. "But that didn't quite work."

Because she had the lowest score in the first round, she had

to compete first in the second round. No matter, her brother said, this isn't,

after all, her first rodeo.

"She was fine," said Ben, choking back emotion.

"She's been here before. She's been at the top of her sport for such a

long time. She was mentally prepared and mature about her snowboarding. It was

good to see."

Torah confirmed she didn't worry about the stakes, just

nailing the jump no other woman has done.

It's a special event, but I felt the same up

there," she said. "It looked the same as jumping into the X Games pipe.

The field of riders is the same. I knew if I put down that run, I'd have a

pretty good chance to be on top."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com