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    Friday, February 6, 1998

    Snowboarders make Olympics radical

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- Snowboarders rule.
     Take Todd Richards. He's a king of the halfpipe, a freestyle event where competitors ride a U-shaped tube of snow and catch air off the lip of the trough.
     It's like skateboarders performing tricks on a ramp. Richards should know.
     "I still get chased out of mall parking lots with my skateboard," he said. "Nothing's changed."
     What has changed is that snowboarding is now an Olympic sport, making its debut in the Nagano Games.
     Richards promises a spectacular show.
     "The pipe is sick," he said in typical snowboard lingo. "Stop by. You are going to see some stuff."
     Snowboarders used to be considered reckless daredevils and were banned from many ski resorts. But the sport, a hybrid of surfing and skateboarding, has developed into a huge industry that is now part of the mainstream.
     Some have accused snowboarders of selling out by competing in the Olympics, which is largely driven by commercial interests and television ratings.
     "There's a fine line between selling out and buying in," Richards said. "The people who are here are pure athletes."
     The hardest part for many non-conformist snowboarders is adjusting to the team concept of the Olympics.
     "It's a little bit unusual being part of a team, wearing the uniform and all that," Richards said. "But it's all about showing the world's best talent. If we have to do some things that are unusual for us, that's OK."
     That doesn't mean abandoning the sport's hip-hop reputation. The U.S. team lived up to the image Friday, bringing a chillin', Beavis and Butt-Head credo into the staid, conservative Olympics.
     Many of the Americans had wraparound sunglasses perched on their heads. Because it was so stuffy in the room, they were allowed to peel off their U.S. Olympic jackets and strip down to shirts and T-shirts. Alaska's Rosey Fletcher rolled up her shirt to reveal a raven tattoo on her right shoulder.
     "This whole scene is blowing me away," said giant slalom competitor Betsy Shaw as she surveyed the roomful of reporters. "It's beyond my wildest dreams."
     Then the shredders did their rap:
     -- "I think we're gonna kick some real butt here," said Fletcher, the youngest woman of the bunch at 22. "These girls rule."
     -- "I'm really psyched to be here," said Sondra Van Ert, the self-described "old lady" of the team at 33. "I can't wait to check out the snow monkeys at the halfpipe."
     -- "I'm stoked to be here," said men's giant slalom rider Mike Jacoby.
     -- "It's gonna be hot," said Lisa Kosglow, sizing up the medal hopes of the U.S. women's giant slalom team. "These women rip."
     -- "I can't wait to sing the national anthem," said Adam Hostetter, a surprise qualifier for the men's giant slalom team. "If anybody has it written down, I'd love to see it."
     -- Asked by a reporter how the team was coping with all the sudden media attention, Richards cracked, "I'm imagining you naked."
     -- "For the most part, we speak English," said halfpipe competitor Shannon Dunn when asked to explain the jargon of the sport.
     The competition opens Sunday with the men's giant slalom, an event which could produce the first U.S. medal of the games. Jacoby and Klug are strong contenders for the podium, with Nicolas Conte and several Austrians also among the favorites.
     The women's giant slalom is Monday, followed by the halfpipe events next Thursday.