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2006 Winter Olympics Preview:
Snowboarding
Jan Michaelis
Jan Michaelis is among the top threats for men's gold in the halfpipe this year, leading the World Cup standings.
As the sport of snowboarding continues to grow in popularity, the Olympics are following suit with more events.

In its third go-round as an Olympic sport, snowboarding will have three different competitions -- the halfpipe, parallel giant slalom (PGS) and snowboard cross. The cross will be featured at the Olympics for the first time in Turin after the halfpipe and slalom events debuted at the 1998 Nagano Games.

The halfpipe competition consists of aerial tricks and is judged, while the PGS and cross are race events.

Snowboarders utilize the halfpipe, a half-cylinder-shaped snow structure dug into the hill, to catch air and perform tricks by traveling back and forth from wall to wall while moving down the fall line. The judges score standard maneuvers, amplitude, degree of difficulty and execution. The top six scores from the first run advance directly to the final and the remaining boarders get a second run, of which the top six reach the final round. The best score of two runs in the final round count for each competitor.

The PGS features two qualifying runs by each of the boarders with a cumulative time to set up a 16-person tournament -- NCAA-bracket style -- that employs head-to-head racing until a champion is crowned. For example, the top time will be the No. 1 seed and will face the 16th-best time in the first round and the second-best time will take on the 15th-best, etc. The winners in the first round will advance to the quarterfinals and those winners will go to the semifinals. The semifinal winners will then meet for the gold medal and the semifinal losers will square off for the bronze.

In the cross -- a pack-style racing event similar to short-track speedskating -- boarders get two qualifying runs and the best time counts. When the field is reduced to 16, the quarterfinals feature four heats of four boarders and the winners advance to the semifinals. The next two best times from each heat (eight racers) head to a pair of secondary heats, where the best two times from each (four racers) advance to the semifinals. The top two times in each of the two semifinal heats will move into the Big Final, where the four racers will vie for three medals.

The snowboarding events at the 2006 Games will be held at Bardonecchia, about 55 miles west of Turin.

TOP CONTENDERS AND CURRENT CHAMPIONS

The American men swept the medals at the halfpipe four years ago in Salt Lake City, but gold medalist Ross Powers won't be around to defend his title. He failed to qualify for the United States team this year.

Germany's Jan Michaelis is among the top threats for men's gold in the halfpipe this year, leading the World Cup standings, while countrymate Xaver Hoffmann and Finland's Antti Autti could also contend. Switzerland's Philipp Schoch will try to win a second gold in the PGS, but could have competition from his younger brother Simon or a number of other Swiss stars.

Other international stars on the watch list include first-time Olympian Doresia Krings of Austria, who could be a medal contender in both the women's PGS and snowboard cross, and Switzerland's Daniela Meuli, who has been at the top of the women's parallel standings the past two seasons. Manuela Laura Pesko of Switzerland could be among the favorites in women's halfpipe. She leads this year's World Cup point standings and was among the top five in each of the previous three seasons.

UNITED STATES/CANADIAN OUTLOOK

The Americans have been dominant in the snowboard events at the past two Olympics with seven total medals. No other country has more than four. In addition to the men's halfpipe sweep in Salt Lake, Kelly Clark took the women's halfpipe gold as well.

Clark will be joined on this year's halfpipe team by Gretchen Bleiler and talented teens Hannah Teter and Elena Hight. Bleiler missed out on the U.S. team four years ago on a tiebreaker, but had victories in four of the five Olympic qualifying series.

There will be just one American woman in snowboard cross, but Lindsey Jacobellis will be among the gold medal favorites. Already starring in her own Visa commercial, the 20-year-old native of Danbury, Connecticut, claimed the 2005 World Championships crown.

Seth Wescott will give the Americans a top threat in the men's snowboard cross after his 2005 World Championships triumph, while Tyler Jewell will be the only American in the men's PGS after Salt Lake bronze medalist Chris Klug failed to make the team.

The U.S. men's halfpipe team will be headlined by Shaun White and 2002 Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass. White, nicknamed the "Flying Tomato" because of his red hair, has been a star in Winter X Games with four gold medals and won all five events in determining the American halfpipe squad.

Jasey-Jay Anderson is Canada's top threat for a medal in PGS and snowboard cross. He was second in the 2005 snowboard cross World Cup standings and first in 2002, but his Olympic experience has not been as fruitful. In 2002 he did not qualify for the PGS finals, and in the 1998 Nagano Games he was first after the initial slalom run but fell in the second run.

Dominique Maltais leads the women's snowboard cross standings and has been among the top 10 each of the previous two years.

- Jim Gillis, TSN Managing Editor

 
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