February 13, 2006

Halfpipe provides full-on thrills

By Bill Barclay

BARDONECCHIA, Italy (Reuters) - To the untrained eye, it
resembles skateboarding without the wheels and, theoretically,
a slightly softer landing.

Halfpipe snowboarding is only in its third Olympics but as
Monday's spill-filled women's event showed, it provides a
compelling spectacle, complete with pounding rock music and a
language all of its own.

Backside Air, McTwist, Egg Plant, Pop Tart and Wet Cat are
some of terms used to describe the daredevil jumps and tricks
performed while each competitor zig-zags down the 140 meter
trough set at a daunting incline and lined with unforgiving,
compacted ice.

"I wanted to try to go as big as I could and tweak my grabs
hard," said Monday's gold medal winner Hannah Teter of the
United States, which dominates the event.

Those in need of enlightenment can try the Internet, where
even search engine Google had modified its frontpage theme to
mark the event, replacing both the 'o's in 'Google' with a
halfpipe complete with airborne snowboarder.

Down at the finish on Monday, a German called DJ Chainsaw
played the ultimate requests set, ensuring each competitor rode
accompanied by their favorite tune booming out over the
25,000-watt course loudspeakers.

Teter chose a track called Communication by a little-known
reggae band called Strive Roots while other competitors favored
more mainstream acts such as Nirvana, Green Day and Gorillaz.

Rappers such as Eminem and 50 Cent are out of the question
as Chainsaw will not play tracks with obscenities. This is the
Olympics after all.

The party atmosphere, however, cannot disguise the fact
that snowboarding hurts. Just ask the Japanese.

Melo Imai was taken to hospital after crashing to the icy
halfpipe floor in qualifying and in the final Chikako Fushimi
drew howls of vicarious pain from the spectators with two
rib-cracking tumbles while compatriot Soko Yamaoaka also bit
the ice.

Teter, an excitable 19-year-old who squealed and laughed
her way through her news conference in between sending text
messages, said she planned among other things to buy a boat, a
puppy and take a beach holiday in Hawaii to celebrate.

Asked what she would do with her medal, she said: "Hang it
on the wall, is that a good thing to do with it? I'll probably
take it up to our house in Vermont. I'll probably just staple
it to the wall."