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    Monday, February 9, 1998

    France's Karine Ruby takes snowboarding gold

     YAMANOUCHI, Japan (AP) -- One by one, American snowboarders picked themselves up off the course, their high hopes for medals wiped out. Blame it on the "death cookies."
     The quest for America's first medal of the Nagano Olympics collapsed when all four U.S. women crashed during the first run of the giant slalom Tuesday (Monday night EST). The only one who qualified for the second run finished 12th.
     "Welcome to my nightmare," said U.S. head coach Peter Foley, who two days earlier watched the American men get shut out.
     While the U.S. skiers faltered, French favorite Karine Ruby mastered both runs through steady snowfall to win the first Olympic gold medal in women's snowboarding. Her combined time was 2 minutes, 17.34 seconds.
     Germany's Heidi Renoth took the silver in 2:19.17 and Austria's Brigitte Koeck got the bronze in 2:19.42.
     Ruby, 21, won France's first medal of the Nagano Games and the first French gold of the Winter Games since 1992 in Albertville. Holding a lead of 1.96 seconds after the first run, she only had to complete the second to hold on for the victory.
     "I didn't go all-out on the second run," she said. "I just didn't want to fall."
     Asked how she will cope with her new fame, Ruby said, "If I can handle this race, I can handle the rest of it."
     The Americans couldn't handle anything.
     They couldn't cope with the difficult weather and snow conditions and questioned whether the race should have been run at all.
     "It's a race of survival," said Rosey Fletcher, the first of the Americans to wipe out on the Mount Yakebitai course. "There's like really hard death cookies -- ice chunks. It's really inconsistent. They'll be powder, ice and death cookies. Its really difficult."
     Asked if the race should have been run, Fletcher said: "I'm not sure. I just think for a high-caliber race like this, the snow conditions should be top."
     Fletcher's fall set the tone as Betsy Shaw, Lisa Kosglow and Sondra Van Ert all failed to stay upright.
     Fletcher and Kosglow didn't finish, and Shaw was disqualified for missing a gate. Van Ert recovered after her fall and completed the race but was in 16th place, 8.56 seconds behind Ruby. Van Ert finished 12th in 2:26.56.
     "We all had high hopes," Kosglow said. "All four of us could have been on the podium.
     "It's a terrible showcase for the sport. The women are not this bad."
     Ruby, winner of seven of eight World Cup races this season, finished her first run in 1 minute, 9.33 seconds. That put her 1.95 seconds ahead of another Frenchwoman, Isabelle Blanc, who was clocked in 1:11.28. Lidia Trettel of Italy was third in 1:11.68.
     Visibility deteriorated on the second run as the snowfall increased. Ruby rode a clean, conservative run in 1:08.01 to hold onto the gold. Renoth moved up from fifth to second and Koeck from seventh to third.
     The race had been postponed Monday (Sunday night EST) for 24 hours due to heavy snow and fog. The conditions improved slightly but the race was still affected by steady snowfall and limited visibility.
     The Americans said they were not prepared for the fast, hard-packed snow conditions.
     "They watered down the course a couple of days ago," Kosglow said. "That's the way to treat the course, but none of us have ever been on conditions like this before. Usually when the weather's like this, we race in powder.
     "When I came out of the gate, I went, 'Oh, my God.' It felt like my feet weren't connected to the board."
     Shaw said she, too, "was completely taken by surprise at what was under my feet. Everywhere else, it's ego snow, perfectly packed powder. I didn't feel like my feet were underneath me. I just felt like I was hanging on for dear life the whole way down."
     The women's GS is the second snowboard event in Olympic history. In the first race, held Sunday, Canada's Ross Rebagliati won the gold medal in the men's giant slalom, while the U.S. team was shu out.
     The competition moves next to Kanbayashi Snowboard Park for the men's and women's halfpipe, freestyle events where riders perform jumps and tricks on a huge snow trough.

     Snowboard Results
     YAMANOUCHI, Japan (AP) -- Results Tuesday from the the first run of the women's giant slalom snowboard event at the Winter Olympics. (Starting gate position in parentheses):
     1, (2) Karine Ruby, France, 1 minute, 9.33 seconds.
     2, (3) Isabelle Blanc, France, 1:11.28.
     3, (15) Lidia Trettel, Italy, 1:11.68.
     4, (6) Isabell Zedlacher, Austria, 1:11.89.
     5, (1) Heidi Renoth, Germany, 1:11.92.
     6, (17) Ursula Fingerlos, Austria, 1:12.37.
     7, (11) Brigitte Koeck, Austria, 1:13.01.
     8, (8) Marion Posch, Italy, 1:13.32.
     9, (4) Dagmar Mair Unter Der Eggen, Italy, 1:13.35.
     10, (19) Sandra Farmand, Germany, 1:14.39.
     11, (18) Charlotte Bernard, France, 1:14.43.
     12, (23) Cecile Plancherel, Switzerland, 1:15.84.
     13, (20) Marie Birkl, Sweden, 1:15.99.
     14, (22) Shinobu Ueshima, Japan, 1:16.88.
     15, (16) Polona Zupan, Slovenia, 1:16.90.
     16, (12) Sondra Van Ert, Ketchum, Idaho, 1:17.89.
     17, (25) Heidi Jaufenthaler, Austria, 1:18.43.
     18, (27) Malgorzata A. Rosiak, Poland, 1:19.41.
     19, (29) Renate Keller, Switzerland, 1:19.48.
     20, (14) Margherita Parini, Italy, 1:21.42.
     21, (24) Nathalie Desmares, France, 1:21.43.
     22, (13) Steffi Von Siebenthal, Switzerland, 1:21.93.
     23, (28) Maria Dimova, Bulgaria, 1:23.31.
     24, (30) Marousa Pappou, Greece, 1:33.55.
     25, (5) Rosey Fletcher, Girdwood, Alaska, DNF.
     26, (7) Burgl Heckmair, Germany, DNF.
     27, (10) Lisa Kosglow, Boise, Idaho, DNF.
     28, (21) Jana Sedova, Slovakia, DNF.
     29, (26) Jagna Marczulajtis, Poland, DNF.
     30, (31) Pamela Bell, New Zealand, DNF.
     31, (9) Betsy Shaw, East Dorset, Vt., DQ.