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    Sunday, February 1, 1998

    Snowboarder says uniform OK -- to a point

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- The basic uniform for a snowboarder is no uniform at all.
     In this most anarchic of sports, everyone is his or her own dresser. Baggy jeans. Big sweatshirts. Baseball caps turned backward. Pierced ears, noses, tongues, navels -- well, you get the idea.
     Now, this bastion of nonconformity is colliding with the very conformist Olympics.
     While snowboarding gets a shot at worldwide mainstream exposure, it also means that the Olympics is asking the shredders to dress up a little, please. Just this once.
     And that has Michelle Taggert totally sick.
     'It's hard for snowboarders in general to accept the authority deal," Taggert said by telephone in Mammoth, Calif., on Saturday night after becoming a last-minute choice for the U.S. halfpipe team in the Nagano Winter Games.
     Dressing in the official clothing of the U.S. Olympic Committee is OK for Taggert when the competition is on.
     "I don't mind wearing it at the event," she said. "That's like wearing a wedding dress to a wedding. Everybody does it."
     But, Taggert wants to know, does she really have to continue the red-white-and-blue theme when she goes to breakfast, or team meetings, or takes the bus into town?
     The rules say "Yes."
     "USOC apparel shall be considered the competitor's official clothing until their return to the United States," says Article 12 of the USOC's Code of Conduct for Olympic teams, a code Taggert and every other athlete must sign before being placed on the squad.
     Taggert says, "Maybe."
     "I want to be unique and individual, and wear clothes that represent me," she said. "I'll fight it as long as I don't get kicked out."
     Deborah Engen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. ski and snowboard squads, said Taggert was just venting some of the frustrations of an athlete in a pointedly individual sport suddenly squeezed by the biggest team of all.
     Even Taggert agreed with that description.
     "I would never have considered that this would be an Olympic sport, and I'm really grateful that I have the opportunity," she said.
     "I began snowboarding never with that in my mind. I just snowboarded because I love it. Now that I'm here, I really appreciate it."