ALL THE fractures and dislocations, the sacrifices and disappointments and, yes, the auctioned-off livestock—we'll explain later—had led Kaitlyn Farrington to this moment, this place: the greenroom of the Today show in Sochi, which, despite its Quonset hut feel, was pretty sweet, with a Foosball table, plenty of snacks and a pair of sofas, one of which was occupied by Meredith Vieira, who the following night would become the first woman to anchor NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage.
This is an article from the Feb. 24, 2014 issue
But this was Kaitlyn's time. The previous evening she'd soared and spun her way to gold in the women's halfpipe, knocking off three former gold medalists and assuaging U.S. disappointment at the Olympic egg laid by Shaun White. Twenty minutes after her victory, having beguiled a gathering of international media in the mixed-zone interview area, she shared an embrace with a middle-aged character whose creased, weather-beaten features evoked the Marlboro Man's. Kaitlyn's father, Gary, is, in fact, a cowboy. "I break colts," he explained, before correcting himself: "Make that, 'I start colts.' We don't say break anymore."
He seemed reluctant to release his daughter. "I have a feeling I'm not gonna see you for a while," he said. "Like, the rest of your life."
He wasn't serious, but he wasn't all wrong either. He would see plenty of her, but she wouldn't be quite the same person. Kaitlyn was in the earliest stages of a metamorphosis experienced by all Olympic champions.
The Games' celebrity-making machinery is partial to athletes like Farrington. She is an exuberant 24-year-old with a killer backstory and a dose of edge—did you notice her tasteful nose ring? By the time she got to the greenroom it was 3 p.m. and she was fading, having danced the night away with friends at the Sky Bar just down the mountain from the halfpipe. After two hours' sleep it had been time to rise and shine and meet the press. Again.
After further friendly debriefing at Sochi's Main Press Center, she was shuttled to a double-decker stack of cubicles in the Olympic Park known as Hollywood Squares. Each cube contained a chipper talking head from some NBC affiliate. All were eager to ask if the magnitude of her accomplishment had "sunk in yet" and if the cow story was true.
Indeed, it was. Growing up on a cattle ranch in Bellevue, Idaho, Kaitlyn took up 'boarding at the nearby Sun Valley Ski Club. As she got older, she started winning contests. As she got older still, those contests became more far-flung.
To pay for the trip to a competition, her family would sell a cow. Early on Monday mornings, Gary recalls, she and he would cut one from the herd, then coax it into a trailer. Kaitlyn would go to school, and her dad would drive an hour south to the weekly auction in Shoshone, Idaho, returning with cash.
"You're a farm girl—that's awesome!" effused the wonderfully manic Access Hollywood anchor Billy Bush. Having extracted the cow story, Bush elicited this confidence from Farrington: "I have an alltime crush on Zac Efron."
After commenting favorably on her nose ring, Bush riffed, "I've heard Zac Efron has a thing for nose rings."
"He can have me!" she proclaimed.
"Bingo! You are very cool," replied the host. Then, turning to the camera, "How 'bout that, America?"
Back in the greenroom Vieira made gracious small talk, then took her leave, and Kaitlyn sprawled onto the still-warm sofa. Gary asked, completely without snark, "Am I supposed to know who she was?"
So exhausted was his daughter that she began nodding off. Sleep, alas, wasn't an option: In 10 minutes they would begin the trek to the set of the Today show, there to be chatted up by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. In the meantime Kaitlyn's agent, the genial but firm Tom Yap, had business to discuss. Cheez-Its, one of her sponsors, hoped she would be an honorary marshal at the Daytona 500. In a few days Farrington would fly to New York City, where the metamorphosis would continue. "My friend Amber Feld works in fashion," Yap informed her, "and she is going to get you all styled out for Letterman."
It was Farrington's distinctive style that landed her in this place to begin with. Three years earlier, feeling overshadowed by Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter, and worried that her 'boarding had begun to stagnate, she parted ways with the U.S. Snowboarding program. It was risky—and absolutely the right call. Destpite being plagued by fractures and dislocations of her fingers and wrists, she cultivated a quiver full of unconventional tricks, including the switch backside 720 that highlighted her gold-medal-winning run. Farrington doesn't go as high in the pipe as some of her rivals, but her Olympic tricks were creative, out-of-the-mainstream, and fully and properly grabbed.
Steez—'boarderspeak for style and ease—was a highly valuable currency at the snowboarding venues. The same judges who smiled on Farrington's final run bestowed slopestyle gold medals on Americans Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson, whose tricks were as original and creative as their personalities.
Style defined Farrington, too, in the pipe and on the podium at the medals ceremony, where the reality of her good fortune sank in at last. As the final words of "The Star-Spangled Banner" echoed across Olympic Park, she looked up, the lights glinting off the gold in her nose ring.
Six days before her 21st birthday the Vermonter won a silver medal in the first Olympic women's ski slopestyle event. Versatile on and off the slope, Logan nearly made the U.S. team in ski halfpipe and is a certified freestyle skiing judge.
For the inside story of how the U.S. men's hockey team fares as it tries to better its 2010 Olympic silver medal and win gold for the first time since 1980, follow coverage by Michael Farber and the SI team in Sochi at SI.com/Olympics