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    Saturday, February 7, 1998

    Snowboarding crashes into mainstream

     YAMANOUCHI, Japan (AP) -- The shredders are stoked and ready to rail.
     Snowboarding is crashing into the mainstream and making its debut on the Olympic stage.
     "Maybe we can bring some color to the games," said Todd Richards, the top U.S. freestyler.
     No kidding.
     With their renegade image, hip-hop look, grunge lingo and thrash-metal tunes, snowboarders certainly bring a new dimension to the staid 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."
     Klug, Mike Jacoby and Adam Hostetter represent U.S. medal hopes in the opening event Sunday (Saturday night EST), the men's giant slalom. It's a speed race, similar to the GS in Alpine skiing, with riders "railing" (making fast, hard turns) through gates down a 3,073-foot course on Mount Yakebitai.
     With few American medal hopes in Alpine skiing, snowboarding shapes up as the sport with the best U.S. podium chances.
     "It wouldn't surprise me to see maybe four medals," Jacoby said. "I'd consider that a minimum."
     Sunday's race could provide the first U.S. medal of the games.
     "It would be great to get the momentum going for the country," Klug said. "It would set the pace and tone for the country."
     Klug, 28, a former high school quarterback from Aspen, Colo., is the top-ranked U.S. rider this season. Jacoby is a two-time world champion. Hostetter came out of nowhere to clinch a spot on the team in the final qualifying event.
     "Call me the dark horse," Hostetter said. "I think somebody said me coming (to the Olympics) is like a snowball in hell. I was like 14th going into the last day. When I made it, it was kind of a shock to myself and everyone else."
     The Americans must contend with the powerful Europeans and Canadians. The Europeans, especially the Austrians, have dominated the World Cup events this season.
     Austria has four legitimate medal contnders, led by Martin Freinademetz. Canada's Mark Fawcett and France's Nicolas Conte are other favorites.
     "The Austrians, Canada, the U.S., any of these countries could easily sweep the podium," said Canada's Ross Rebagliati.
     In the women's giant slalom Monday (Sunday night EST), self-described "old ladies" Sondra van Ert (33) and Betsy Shaw (32) link up with Lisa Kosglow (24) and Rosey Fletcher (22) for the strong American team.
     France's Karine Ruby, who won six straight events on the World Cup circuit this season, is the favorite.
     The giant slalom is staid compared with the freestyle halfpipe events, which are scheduled for Thursday at the Kanbayashi Snowboard Park.
     In halfpipe, competitors ride back and forth on a U-shaped trough -- about 350 feet long and 20 feet wide, with walls 12 feet high -- and perform aerial tricks and jumps like skateboarders on a ramp. The riders are judged for maneuvers and technical merit.
     Halfpipe moves have names such as "stale fish" (jumping while holding the back edge of the board), "stiffy" (jumping with both legs straight) and "ho-ho" (two-handed handstand). Riding backward is called "fakey."
     Richards and 18-year-old Ross Powers are the top U.S. contenders in the men's vent, while Michele Taggart heads the women's field.