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    Monday, February 9, 1998

    Snowboarders visit monkey park

     YAMANOUCHI, Japan (AP) -- Once weather wiped out the competition, members of the U.S. women's snowboarding team tried another kind of adventure.
     They headed straight for the Kanbayashi Snowboard Park -- not to work on their halfpipe moves, but to see the famous monkeys.
     Kanbayashi is the site of a hot springs national park where a pack of macaques bathe in the waters and mingle with tourists.
     "The monkeys are so cute," said Sondra Van Ert, the 33-year-old veteran of the American team. "They run right past you. They even run around in the town. The shopkeepers think they're pests and shoot at them with slingshots."
     The visit Monday had special significance for Van Ert, who has been fascinated by monkeys since she was a child.
     "I still have a stuffed monkey my grandmother gave me when I was 1 year old," she said. "I've kept all the Curious George books. My cousins gave me a bunch of stuffed monkeys for the Olympics. In fact, I've got five of them in my room right now."
     In addition to visiting the monkey park, Van Ert and other team members passed the time playing video games, getting together with relatives and looking around Nagano.
     The riders had time to kill after the giant slalom -- the first women's snowboard event in Olympic history -- was postponed by 24 hours due to heavy snow and fog on Mount Yakebitai. The race was re-scheduled for Tuesday morning (Monday night EDT).
     "I got up at 6 a.m., wiped the fog off my window and kept wiping and wiping, and it didn't get any better," Van Ert said.
     After snowboarding made its debut Sunday (Saturday night EDT) with the men's giant slalom, the women were impatient to put on a show of their own.
     "I had been really psyched," Van Ert said. "I really wanted to get it over with."
     Instead, she spent the morning playing video games with her teammates and France's Karine Ruby, winner of seven of eight World Cup races this season and the big favorite for the GS gold.
     Van Ert, of Ketchum, Idaho, is a former U.S. Alpine ski team racer who turned to snowboarding in 1989. She and 32-year-old Betsy Shaw are the self-described "old ladies" of the sport.
     Watching the men's Olympic race gave Van Ert a new perspective.
     "It's not just snowboarding in the Olympics," she said. "It's the people, the sportsmanship and friendly atmosphere. People are just flat-out happy to be here. Just feeling the spirit, I was so psyched."
     With Chris Klug, Mike Jacoby and Adam Hostetter all finishing out of the medals in the men's race, there was pressure on Van Ert, Shaw, Lisa Kosglow and Rosey Fletcher to produce.
     "All four U.S. women have a solid chance," Van Ert said. "I'm shooting for the gold medal for all I've got. But the Olympics is not the be-all and end-all. It won't destroy me if I don't win."