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    Saturday, February 7, 1998

    Shredders hit the hills and look for respectability

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- Get down, get ready. Here come the snowboarders, definitely not your average Olympic athletes.
     These daredevils who rock and roll their way down the slopes are taking their oddball sport prime-time and big time in its Olympic debut this weekend.
     They call themselves "shredders" and like to get "stoked out" (psyched up, for the uninitiated). But they're reaching for respectability and TV time along with downhill and cross-country skiers, hockey players and figure skaters.
     With their renegade image, snowboarders bring a new dimension to the stuffy world of the Olympics.
     "The sport's image is important," said giant slalom specialist Chris Klug. "It's not skiing. It's not a team sport. We come from a different background. It's unusual for us to have to wear uniforms and do this and that. But it's a sacrifice we're willing to make."
     There's a potential payoff for the Olympics as well.
     "It is attracting a lot more kids. The Olympics needs new stuff and snowboarding is the thing," said Derek Heidt, a member of the Canadian team.
     The men's giant slalom in snowboarding is part of CBS' Sunday night coverage. At the Mount Yakebitai venue, the giant slalomers will speed down the same hill that's to be used in the more traditional Alpine slalom event.
     Like Alberto Tomba, they'll race against the clock through the gates. Unlike La Bomba, they'll be using one board instead of two skis.
     Later in the week comes the halfpipe event, where competitors careen through a snow trough and perform tricks like in-line skaters. It's a freestyle event decided on the basis of judges' scores rather than times.
     Snowboarders are sharing TV time Sunday with men's cross-country skiing. In the 30 kilometer, Norway's Bjoern Daehlie will try to add to the five gold medals he's won in two Olympics.
     CBS on Sunday also has the first rounds of men's 500-meter speed skating, men's luge and pairs figure skating, along with the downhill portion of the men's combined event in skiing.
     The U.S. team faces China in women's ice hockey, another sport making its debut in the games, and will be featured on CBS.
     Other action Sunday includes preliminary games in men's hockey before the powerhouses such as the United States and Canada get started later in the week.
     But the snowboard dudes get their space on the air -- and in the air.
     The funky combination of surfing and skateboarding could even produce the first U.S. medal of the games. Mike Jacoby and Klug are strong contenders for the podium, and several Austrians also are among the favorites.
     Less than 10 years ago snowboarding was seen as a nuisance pastime that bothered alpine skiers and ripped up trails. But that started to change in 1995, when snowboarding was added to the Olympic schedule.
     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," said Todd Richards, an American half-piper. "But it's all about showing the world's best talent. If we have to do some things that are unusual for us, thats OK."