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    Wednesday, February 11, 1998

    Snowboarders find themelves under scrutiny

     NAGANO, Japan (CP) -- Ross Rebagliati stepped onto the stage with his snowboarding teammates, clad in dark shades, his pants hiked up around his belly, his white socks clashing with his official Team Canada trousers.
     His walk said cool and his hands signalled hip.
     This was the message the snowboarders seemed to be sending to the world about their sport and their lifestyle when the entire Canadian Olympic team was presented at a Canada House reception at the start of these Games.
     Flanked by the rest of Canadian team wearing blazers and skirts embodying conservative ideals, the snowboarders stood out.
     Their sport has been portrayed as the hip new Olympic event with an attitude, following in the footsteps of short-track speed skating in 1992 and then freestyle skiing, but also as the problem child that needs discipline.
     But the snowboarding athletes are a different lot, with a new vernacular, and a genuine affinity for what they call a free spirit. Olympic-styled discipline may not associate itself well with these athletes.
     They talk about being stoked and amped -- which is short form for thrilled to death and ready to go. They walk like rappers, albeit happy, worry-free rappers, and greet passers-by with a smile and their unique brand of high-fives.
     The sport evolved from the beaches to the hills, when kids who couldn't surf in the winter adapted their boards to the snow hills. With two Olympic disciplines -- the slalom and the half-pipe -- on the program for the first time, this was snowboard's big chance for legitimacy.
     But talking to various members of the team, the sport doesn't want to change for the Olympics, they want the Games to let them be Olympians and snowboarders.
     That includes the baggy pants, the various colors of hair, the cool-speak, but it also means hours of training on the hill, dry-land training, and weight lifting included as part of the regimen.
     In the wake of Rebagliati's positive drug test, the president of the Canadian Snowboard Federation was asked this morning about whether marijuana was part of the culture of snowboarders.
     "The culture of snowboarder is one of free spiritness," said Michael Wood. "It comes from a surfing and skateboard background. I think in the public's perception (marijuana) would be associated with the sport of snowboarding.
     "Howver when we consider athletes of this calibre who have been competing and training diligently over the past several years, I would say -- relating it to their specific use -- it's virtually non-existent."
     The sport is hot, however. When Rebagliati got his gold medal, he and the other medallists were received like rock stars by the crowd.
     Rebagliati flashed hand signs as if he was a hip-hop artist rather than Olympic athlete.
     The sport does have ties to the rock world. British rock star Seal is an avid snowboarder and visits Whistler often to indulge his passion for the sport.
     An outdoor enthusiast, he picked up the sport because of "the mountains, the desire to be amongst the mountains."
     The Canadian Olympic snowboarders seem to share that love for the freedom of the outdoors, according to the team media guide. Their interests include wakeboarding, parasailing, mountain biking, bow hunting, fishing, hiking, diving horseback riding and surfing
     The Olympic version of snowboarding has two faces.
     In the giant slalom, the discipline Rebagliati won, snowboarders slash their way through 30 to 50 gates down a run with a vertical drop of 290 metres.
     Then there's the half pipe, which features a course 110 metres long and 15 metres wide enclosed by walls. Competitors swoop down from side to side, performing tricks as they funnel down the run.
     It's wild, quick and exciting -- literally living on the edge.