February 15, 2006

First Olympic champion faces last race

SESTRIERE, Italy (Reuters) - France's Karine Ruby, the
first snowboarder to win an Olympic gold medal, hopes to bow
out in style on Friday with a third medal in three Winter

The history of the sport and her own choices led the
28-year-old rider from Chamonix to compete in three different
events at the Olympics and she said she was proud of the

"In Nagano, when I became the first ever Olympic champion
in my sport, it did not mean too much to me," she said.

"On February 18, when I retire, and whatever the outcome,
it will mean a lot," she added.

In 1998, Ruby won the giant slalom, an event which did not
remain in the Olympic menu for the Salt Lake City Games four
years later.

She then won silver behind team mate Isabelle Blanc in the
parallel GS in 2002 while in Bardonecchia, she will take part
in the snowboarding cross, a new event on the Olympic program.

"To become the first snowboarding cross Olympic champion
after being the first Olympic champion in the sport would be a
real achievement," she said.

Snowboarding cross has faced criticism for being too
unreliable and inconsistent a sport, in which the best
competitors are not always rewarded.

"It's true that anything can happen in a cross, but it's
the same with short track and other spectacular, dangerous
events at the Olympics," she said.

Ruby admitted she favored the giant slalom "because you
compete against yourself" but insisted cross, in which four
athletes start together, was "closer to the spirit of

"It's a fun event, it's a lot similar to going down a slope
with friends and battling it out for the fun of it," she said.
"I see it as a tribute the IOC made to the spirit of

But snowboarding cross is also a risky discipline. "I had
never been injured before and I had two serious injuries since
I started snowboarding cross," she said.

The Frenchwoman admitted that, eight years after making its
first appearance on the Olympic program, snowboarding had
become more respectable and had lost its rebel reputation.

"But I still see myself as a rebel of sorts and I don't
know any rebel who would say 'no' to the chance of competing at
the Olympics," she said.