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    Sunday, February 8, 1998

    Canadian takes lead in snowboard giant slalom

     YAMANOUCHI, Japan (AP) -- Canada's Jasey-Jay Anderson grabbed the lead after the first run of the men's snowboard giant slalom as the shredders made their Olympic debut.
     Chris Klug of the United States and Italy's Thomas Prugger were tied for second, just 0.07 seconds behind.
     Under bright, sunny skies at Mount Yakebitai, the once-renegade sport of snowboarding crashed into the Olympic mainstream in rousing fashion Sunday (Saturday night EST). Thousands of fans, mostly Japanese, gathered at the bottom, chanting and blowing horns.
     Anderson, the ninth starter, carved down the 3,000-meter course in 59.31 seconds. Until then, Klug and Prugger had been tied for the lead at 59.38.
     The second run was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. (11 p.m. EST). The top 15 go in reverse order, with Anderson going last.
     Klug, of Aspen, Colo., represents a good chance for the United States' first medal of the Nagano Games.
     Ponytail flying from under his helmet, Klug pumped his fist as he crossed the finish line and saw his time.
     "I like that spot," he said. "Let's keep it that way. I just charged it. It's podium or nothing."
     A few minutes later, Klug saw Anderson flash across the line with a better time to take over first place.
     "Great," Klug said. "There's two North Americans on top."
     Another pre-race favorite, Mark Fawcett of Canada, posted the fastest intermediate time but skidded off the course near the bottom and failed to finish.
     Top American medal hopeful Mike Jacoby of Hood River, Ore., had trouble negotiating a gate on the lower section and nearly fell. He righted himself and manged to finish, but his time of 1:03.53 put him in 22nd place -- far out of contention.
     Jacoby was happy just to finish, raising his arms and holding up his board to the cheering fans.
     "The last section, you have to take some chances," he said. "That's what I did but I stiffened up and nearly came to a screeching stop. I can still go for it in the second run. It's going to be difficult to make up that time, but I've done it before."
     The third American in the race, Adam Hostetter of Tahoe City, Calif., was clocked in 1:00.65.
     With their renegade image, hip-hop look, grunge lingo and thrash-metal tunes, snowboarders certainly bring a new dimension to the staid Olympics.
     With few American medal hopes in Alpine skiing, snowboarding shapes up as the sport with the best U.S. podium chances.
     "It would be great to get the momentum going for the country," Klug said before the race. "It would set the pace and tone for the country."
     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 almost conventional 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.
     Todd Richards and 18-year-old Ross Powers are the top U.S. contenders in the men's event, while Michele Taggart heads the women's field.