A parallel connection

Snowboarding: Giant slalom's new side-by-side format doubles the excitement for competitors and spectators.

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 15, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

PARK CITY, Utah - Four years ago, giant slalom snowboarders shared the Olympic spotlight as they raced down the mountain. Now they compete in a parallel universe.

In a format new to the Winter Games, athletes race twice on side-by-side courses, switching sides after the first run.

Spectators and competitors say the change makes an event built on speed and grace twice as much fun.

"I prefer the parallel event," American Rosey Fletcher said. "It's more spectator-friendly. I like someone right there racing against you. It's a good concept."

Unfortunately, the event didn't like Fletcher, the two-time world championship silver medalist, who, like teammate Sondra Van Ert, failed to qualify for today's final. Fletcher came off her edge high on the hard, icy course and almost slowed to a stop as she fought to regain control.

Van Ert, 37, the four-time world championship medalist called the "Grande Dame" of snowboarding, said her training runs had been terrible and she was "relieved" to have a clean run in front of the American crowd.

The third American woman, Lisa Kosglow, did make the cut and will race next to last today.

Favorite Karine Ruby of France, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist, also will race today.

In yesterday's qualifying - performed in individual runs - 14 women and 16 men failed to advance, leaving 16 competitors in each field.

The men's field is led by Gilles Jaquet of Switzerland and Austria's Alexander Maier, brother of skier Hermann Maier, the two-time gold medalist who missed these Winter Games after a motorcycle accident.

"We phoned yesterday and he gave me some tips on the course, and I think it helped," said Maier, who turned the advice into a second-place finish.

There were some upsets as Canadian Jasey Jay Anderson and American Jeff Greenwood, the former world champion, were cut.

Chris Klug, a second-time Olympian who had a liver transplant in July 2000, will be the only American man in the final.

Giant slalom snowboarding made its debut at the 1988 games in Nagano, Japan, and was immensely popular. In that format, snowboarders rode solo on two runs, and the best combined time won.

But there were complaints that the giant slalom event didn't look much different than its skiing counterpart and definitely appeared more tame than the halfpipe competition, where snowboarders spin and hang in the air.

Then, too, there was the public relations fiasco of Ross Rebagliati, the Canadian snowboarder whose gold medal was stripped after he tested positive for a non-performance-enhancing drug: marijuana.

Rebagliati regained his medal after officials ruled that, although the drug was illegal, it was irrelevant to his performance.

In a move that seemed as much slate clearing as enhancing, Olympic organizers went to the parallel event.

Although snowboarding is geared for a younger crowd, there were plenty of silver heads among the more than 15,000 spectators, who huddled in the bleachers and lined the 549-meter course at the Park City Mountain Resort.

"It's young. It's got music. It's got speed," said Steve Richards, 48, from Chicago, who said the ticket was his first choice.

And, some parents said, they learned to snowboard with their children, earning them the nickname "grays on trays."

Today's finals is a single-elimination tournament, with No. 1 racing No. 16, No. 2 vs. No. 15, and so on. A rider who sweeps the races advances to the next round. A split goes to the rider with the best combined time.

More Olympics

Today's TV: Chs. 11, 4, 4-5 p.m., 8-11:30 p.m., 12:05-1:35 a.m.; MSNBC, 1-6 p.m.; CNBC, 6 p.m.-1 a.m.

Figure skating: Pair of golds a pairs possibility, president of IOC says. [Page 8d]

Hockey: U.S. men ready to debut tonight. [Page 8d]

Luge: Secrecy is a secret to success. [Page 9d]

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