Vancouver snowboard preview
American Shaun White is the overwhelming favorite the halfpipe
Team USA has dominated the halfpipe since 1998, a trend likely to continue
Watch for Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler to make a run for women's gold
SI.com's writers will preview each event from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Here's Sarah Kwak's look ahead to snowboard.
Into the stiff, streamlined repertoire of the International Ski Federation came snowboarding, which made its Olympic debut in 1998. Since then, it's grown to include three different events -- parallel giant slalom, halfpipe and snowboard cross -- that show range and a wealth of skill.
With a cast of chill daredevils, the snowboarding events stole the show in Turin four years ago. From high-flying halfpipe routines, to controversial crashes on the snowboard cross course, the sport translates well to television. And the youthful appeal of the athletes show they are as much fun off the snow as they are careening down on it. Across the three events, there seems to be something for everybody: The tournament-style parallel GS is unpredictable; the halfpipe is a course in showmanship; and snowboard cross has speed and a douse of contact to keep it exciting.
Athletes to watch
Shaun White, USA, Halfpipe: His name and his mane have become synonymous with halfpipe excellence. The '06 gold medalist will be the overwhelming favorite in Vancouver given his collection of death-defying jumps that he created and honed on the top-secret personal halfpipe Red Bull built in the backcountry slopes of Colorado. With other top Americans Kevin Pearce and Danny Davis out because of catastrophic injuries, the field is no doubt thinner, which means the spotlight will shine on White and his orange mop even more. Last month, he debuted his signature double McTwist 1260 -- an impossibly complex twisting, flipping, corking jump -- at the Grand Prix event in Park City, Utah. The trick earned his run a record score of 49.50 out of 50.00. Next stop: Perfection.
Jasey-Jay Anderson, Canada, Parallel GS: In this, his fourth and final Games, the 34-year-old boarder is facing his last chance at the Olympic podium. That he could achieve it in his home country would make it even sweeter. In his last 10 World Cup events, Anderson has four wins and is currently ranked second in the World Cup standings. To make good on his dream, though, he'll have to fend off strong Austrian rider Benjamin Karl (ranked first) and Andreas Prommegger (third).
Lindsey Jacobellis, USA, Snowboard Cross: To the millions that watched the free-for-all four-man race down the hill for the first time at the Turin Olympics, Jacobellis was that showboating snowboarder who let a gold medal slip away when she fell after performing a method grab in the home stretch. And while she has also demonstrated that she's the most dominant athlete in her sport, she's still defined, to a certain extent, by a split-second decision to grandstand. Jacobellis put the embarrassing event behind her and aiming for redemption and promises: "That won't happen again."
Since the halfpipe event was added to the program in '98, Team USA has been dominant, winning 10 of the possible 18 medals awarded. That trend will most certainly continue in Vancouver given the U.S.' stacked women's team. Watch for Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter to make a run at another American sweep of the podium (the U.S. men won three medals in the halfpipe in '02). Clark, who won four of the five U.S. Grand Prix events this season, is the woman to beat at Cypress Mountain.
White vs. Frends: Unlike the women, who are all close outside the bounds of competition, don't expect all the boys to link arms and sing kumbaya around the fire after all is said and done. It's odd to see a divide in a carefree sport that is all about community, but it all seemed to have spawned from White's desire to keep his halfpipe to himself. "He's pushing himself and not the sport," rider Jack Mitrani said in December.
Pearce, who had his own halfpipe built by Nike, decided to share his with some of the sport's elite riders, forming a clique called Frends (no "I," naturally). Pearce, however, sustained a devastating head injury in late December and will be absent in Vancouver. As will Frend Danny Davis, who hurt his back in an ATV accident three weeks later. Their absence makes room for Frend Scotty Lago and recent Dancing with the Stars contestant Louie Vito to try and unseat White.
Bet you didn't know
Snowboarding, and more specifically White, are ratings magnets. NBC saw 23.2 million viewers watch White's victory, which was 3.3 million more than the average for the Games.