February 10, 2006

White heads US gold contenders

By Mark Meadows

SAUZE D'OULX, Italy (Reuters) - Shaun White is favorite in
the men's Olympic snowboarding halfpipe on Sunday and several
of his U.S. team mates are also in the medals hunt, especially
in debut discipline snowboard cross.

White, 19, is in excellent form after scooping a big
superpipe title last month with three 1080s (three 1,080 degree
spins), one of snowboarding's toughest tricks.

His main rivals include compatriots Mason Aguirre, Andy
Finch, 2002 Olympic silver medallist Danny Kass and Finn Antti
Autti, the 2005 world champion.

Halfpipe made its Games debut in Nagano in 1998 and White
believes Sunday's heats and finals at Bardonecchia will capture
the imagination more than the previous two Olympics.

"Halfpipe is going to be watched by more people at this
Olympics. I think it will be a great success. It's going to be
awesome," he said this week.

Gretchen Bleiler is tipped to win the women's halfpipe on
Monday with fellow U.S riders Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic
champion and 19-year-old Hannah Teter, among her main

Snowboard cross, in which four riders race down the same
slope with crashes often occurring, makes its Games debut next
Thursday and Friday. The strong U.S. snowboard cross team
believe their new discipline will rival halfpipe for

"It's a cut throat world out there (on the course). It is
hard enough on your own but then you've got three guys riding
next to you. It is a great spectator sport," U.S. medal hope
Nate Holland told a news conference.

Team mate Seth Wescott is a favorite for the men's gold
with fellow world champion Lindsey Jacobellis heavily-backed
for the women's title.

Despite her dominance, Jacobellis admits to having jitters
at the start of races.

"At the start I get this horrible feeling in my stomach. It
is nerves but also adrenalin," she said.

The parallel giant slalom races wrap up the snowboarding
program on February 22 and 23.