February 13, 2006
Riders get crowd rocking
KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

BARDONECCHIA, Italy -- Snowboarding has come a long way since the days of snurfers.

Yesterday at the Melezet ski complex in this snow-covered town full of off-white chalets northeast of Turin, snowboarding got its due.

A packed house of 6,090 stamped their feet in the stands, screamed and cheered -- while the media throng fought for position at the bottom of the hill -- as American Shaun White won Olympic halfpipe gold.

"This is the most cameras ever at a competition. This is going out to millions of homes worldwide," announcer Zoran Filicich said.

Canadian Crispin Lipscomb finished 11th in the final with a mark of 33.5, while his teammates Brad Martin, Hugo Lemay and Justin Lamoureux failed to qualify.

"Everyone (in the final) was really on form," said the 26-year-old Ottawa native. "The riders are so thick and the pool is so deep."

At the 2002 Olympics, the U.S. swept the podium.

Yesterday, Markku Koski of Finland was sandwiched between three Americans, but was able to grab a bronze.

White scored 46.8 points to win followed by Daniel Kass with 44, Koski 41.5 and Mason Aguirre 40.3.

"I didn't know if I would get the gold; I just knew I wanted it," White said. "This is the best year of my life . . ."

In the halfpipe, snowboarders ride down a 110x15-metre course, enclosed with walls, doing six to eight moves. They are scored on variety, difficulty, height and execution.

In the final, the athletes get two runs with their best score counting.

Once considered a sport for New Age types -- known to take a puff or two -- the only flakes apparent yesterday were of the snow variety.

Lipscomb, the reigning Canadian champion and a coach for the the New Zealand national team, said the sport has respect worldwide because snowboarders need both athletic prowess and mental might.

"The sport is full of very strong athletes -- amazingly mentally strong people."

Jake Burton, a snowboard clothing manufacturer and sponsor of the U.S. team, said this Olympic competition was a great example of the depth of talent among the athletes.

"This is the best riding I've ever seen," Burton said.

Snowboarding surfaced around the mid-1960s in North America.

The first snowboards were called snurfers. Two decades later and the first world championship was held.

Snowboarding has been in the Olympics since 1998.

Canadian head coach Martin Jensen said he's encouraged by the grassroots interest in the sport at home.

"We're seeing it really following more of an Olympic stream. You're seeing a lot more programs structured."

The female riders begin their competition today.

Montreal firefighter Dominique Maltais said her training sessions at Melezet have been "bad. It will be better," she promised.







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