US snowboarders lay claim to halfpipe

Both the men's and women's teams finish 1-2, as the sport becomes one of America's most certain medal hauls.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

At the top of her final run down the halfpipe, her gold medal waiting in the most august competition in all of sport - the Olympics - Hannah Teter danced.

Maybe it was to the music in her headphones. Perhaps it was to the song that thumped over the loudspeakers below and spilled though this dramatic cleft in the Italian Alps like an auditory avalanche. More than likely, though, it was to that same outrageous inner soundtrack that, an hour later, told her it was completely normal to lean back and clunk her boots onto the table during the most important press conference of her life.

After all, it was job done. In two days, American snowboarders had all but stuck an imperial flag into the sport of halfpipe, winning four medals - two-thirds of the total that the entire US Olympic team won in 1988. And for the second consecutive day, the American medals at Bardonecchia were gold and silver.

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Sunday it was the red mane and star-spangled bandanna of the "Flying Tomato," Shaun White, that became a part of American Olympic lore. He won gold along with Danny Kass, who won a second straight silver.

Monday introduced the world to snowboarding's Odd Couple. There was Gretchen Bleiler, who would win the vote for snowboarding prom queen in a landslide. At the podium, the microphone cupped regally in her right hand, she said winning an Olympic medal has always been a dream. Did the US want a medal sweep? Of course, she answered, but "everybody at the Olympics works so hard."

It is not rehearsed or forced, but familiar. These are the answers Olympians are supposed to give, and she happens to be wired that way.

Then there is Teter, who says that winning the gold medal will change her life. Now she can get a boat - to wakeboard.

She won the gold, she says, by the fortuitous combination of Vermont maple syrup, brotherly love, and yoga. "I lit the candles at night and zoned in," she told a press corps apparently not quite sure if the real Olympic champion was bound and gagged in a closet somewhere.

In truth, the two women champions might not be so different. At the top of her final run - the one that brought her silver - Bleiler paused for a moment to dial in the right song on her iPod. It was no concerto. It was Green Day's buzzsaw "Holiday."

And 30 minutes before their chance at international superstardom, Bleiler and Teter took the chairlift to the top of the hill, hopped under some out-of-bounds ropes, and sought out that greatest of snowboarding treasures: untracked powder.

But this is the Olympics. Weren't they afraid of getting injured? Bleiler corrected: "This is snowboarding."

Actually, this is now America's most certain medal haul of the Winter Olympics. So it is understandable that the country's assembled scribes would hold their breath when their Great Gold Hopes go for a joy ride. If they hadn't done so before Monday, Hannah and Co.'s performance officially cemented their place as the face of American winter sports along with the Sasha Cohens and Chad Hedricks of the world.

In other words, every four years, they are to America what ice-browed cross-country skiers are to Scandinavia or wurst-fed downhillers are to Austria.

At least we know Bleiler might get her hair done for the occasion. Four years ago, after missing the Olympic team in a triple tiebreaker, Bleiler said she went to a hair appointment. It was just after the men had swept the medals in Salt Lake, and to her amazement, the 60-year-old ladies in the salon were talking about snowboarding.

Perhaps tomorrow they'll be talking about her backside five.

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