Snowboard - Clark and Hiraoka win halfpipe golds in Sochi

Kelly Clark proved herself to be one of the early favourites for snowboard halfpipe gold at next year's Olympics after winning the World Cup event in Sochi to extend her overall lead.

Snowboard - Clark and Hiraoka win halfpipe golds in Sochi

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Kelly Clark of the U.S. jumps to win the women's snowboard half-pipe final at the "Extreme-Park" of Rosa Khutor, a venue for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics (Reuters)

Clark, who won Olympic gold at Salt Lake City 2002 before taking bronze at Vancouver 2010, claimed her second victory of the season at the Olympic test event in Sochi.

The 29-year-old won the season opener in Cardrona and was the clear best in the Russian Olympic venue to take another victory ahead of Holly Crawford and Sophie Rodriguez.

Clark, who has won the past three Winter X Games superpipe titles, did enough on her first run for victory in Sochi producing a score of 88.25 with her second effort just 44.75.

That saw Clark win by over ten points from Australian Crawford, who scored 78.00 on her first run, while France's Rodriguez was third, again with a first outing of 73.00.

Clark now has a healthy lead at the top of halfpipe World Cup standings with her total of 32000points 1340 better than that of China's Liu Jiayu who was sixth in Sochi.

And Clark believes the experience of competing in Russia less than a year out from the Games will prove beneficial, she said: "I'm definitely leaving encouraged due to the win.

"I'm happy with how I rode and looking forward to building my riding up. I was just happy to come here and get some experience in this pipe and at this venue."

Meanwhile in the men's event Taku Hiraoka claimed his first win of the season and first win of his career to lay down his own marker for a return trip to Sochi for the Olympics next year.

Continuing the trend of the women's event, the top three all produced their best run first time out with Hiraoka scoring 90.25 before a lower effort of 70.25 from run two.

World champion Iouri Podladtchikov couldn't respond to Hiraoka as he scored a best of 84.50 while American Scotty Lago was just behind in third with an effort of 83.25 first time out.

That finish was significant for Lago as it saw him take the overall lead in the halfpipe World Cup standings, Zhang Yiwei, fourth in Sochi, second 420points behind the American.

And Hiraoka, who finished as the runner-up behind Podladtchikov at the World Championships, couldn't hide his delight at the win.

He said: "It have been tough conditions with the warm weather but I'm very happy about my first win."

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