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    Thursday, January 8, 1998

    For the love of the game

    By AL RUCKABER -- Calgary Sun
      Brett Carpentier never had an Olympic dream.
     The 22-year-old from Mt. Tremblant, Que., one of the world's best freestyle snowboarders, never got into the game for the Olympic glory.
     "I started boarding nine years ago because it was fun and the reason I'm still competing now is because it's fun," Carpentier said after blowing away the competition in yesterday's opening round of the team trials at Canada Olympic Park.
     The trials will determine Canada's four-man aerials team for the half pipe event at the Nagano Games next month.
     "I realize the Olympics are important and it would be great to go there, but it's not the only thing in life. I don't want to get caught up in the hype of it. I don't want to be blown away by the whole Olympic thing.
     "I mean, when I started boarding, the sport had nothing to do with the Olympics. It was only announced that it would be an Olympic sport about a year and a half ago. The only reason I'm boarding is because I love it."
     Carpentier epitomizes that rare breed of athlete -- the snowboarder. It's a sport dominated by kids in their teens and early 20s. The sport is the child of the grunge generation with its baggy, loose-fitting clothes, close-cropped heads and earrings. Big air is more important than big Olympic dreams.
     Yet Carpentier will almost surely find himself having to deal with the larger-than-life Olympic experience in Japan next month. After his performance in the trials yesterday, he's a virtual lock to make the half pipe team.
     While there will be two more rounds of trials today and tomorrow, Carpentier gave early notice by pulling away from all comers in the first round. His two-run total of 84.8 points was well ahead of the pack. Second place Mike Michalchuk of Calgary finished with 80.1 points.
     Carpentier's rise is a somewhat amazing story, considering this is only his second season competing internationally on the pro tour. And, he was totally out of the sport last season.
     "I broke my left ankle and that kept me out," he said.
     "After that, I didn't know if I'd stay with it. But I decided to come back this year, not because of the Olympics, but because I love snow boarding and I couldn't stay away from it."
     When pressed about the Olympics, Carpentier conceded, "yeah, I know I'm capable of finishing in the top five. The competition is new, so nobody really knows what to expect.
     The Finnish team is quite strong. So are the Norwegians, Swiss and Americans. We're probably just a notch below the Finns and Norwegians."
     While Carpentier has all but locked up an Olympic team spot, Michalchuk took a big step yesterday towards that goal. He moved up from third after the first run to finish the day in second.
     "I'm happy with my performance -- it's a good way to start out the trials," he said.
     "Being behind only Carpentier is pretty good, because he's awesome. He's a real great technical rider. But he's beatable. Anything can happen yet."
     ICE CHIPS: The Olympic team will be named tomorrow. At the same time the men's four-man giant slalom snowboard team will also be selected. Their trials have been completed but the team members haven't yet been named.