From left to right, silver medalist Torah Bright of Australia and Americans Kaitlyn Farrington (gold) and Kelly Clark (bronze) celebrate Wednesday after the snowboard halfpipe. (EPA/JENS BUETTNER)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Nine of the 12 riders in the field had been on the Olympic stage before. Three had even won gold, and some were among the most recognizable snowboarders in the world.

And then there was Kaitlyn Farrington. All she did Wednesday night was shrug off the nerves off her first Olympic Games and surprise many by winning gold in the halfpipe.

“Who would’ve known she’s going to win this thing?” said her friend Hannah Teter, the 2006 gold medalist who finished fourth in Wednesday’s competition. “I don’t think anybody knew that was coming. So, surprise, surprise.”

When it was finished, even Farrington seemed shocked. “I can’t believe it,” she said.

So who is Farrington? She’s certainly no stranger to those who follow the top level of the sport, but she didn’t even qualify for these Olympics until three weeks ago. She said it didn’t sink in that she was an Olympian until she was on the plane to Sochi last week. Her goals here were modest; she simply wanted to reach the final round of the competition.

“Now to leave gold medalist, I’m just beside myself about it,” Farrington said.

The 24-year old was raised on a cattle ranch in Idaho. Her parents loved to ski and in high school Farrington began to take the sport more seriously. But snowboarding isn’t cheap, and her parents slowly sold off their cattle to help fund their daughter’s passion.

How does a young girl go from riding horses on a ranch to standing atop a medals podium?

“Works hard,” said her father, Gary.

“Rides a lot of horses,” said her mother, Suz. “Good balance. Good balance.”