February 20, 2006

Parallel giant slalom may be family affair

By Mark Meadows

SAUZE D'OULX, Italy (Reuters) - Brotherly love will be left
at the top of the mountain when Switzerland's Philipp and Simon
Schoch battle for supremacy in snowboarding's Olympic parallel
giant slalom on Wednesday.

Philipp, 26, is Olympic champion but his older brother is
the World Cup leader and the top duo may have to race against
each other on identical, parallel courses.

"Our preparations have been perfect and right now we're
feeling really confident," Simon said recently.

Despite 27-year-old Simon's top ranking this season,
opponents still fear Salt Lake City winner Philipp more because
of his Olympic experience. He carried the Swiss flag at Turin's
opening ceremony.

"Philipp Schoch is undoubtedly the strongest, he has won
many competitions this year and so he will definitely be on the
podium," Austrian parallel giant slalom racer Alexander Maier
told reporters. "But this is the Olympics, so we'll see."

The Swiss team are clear favorites in Bardonecchia and have
dominated in recent years, partly because of the absence of any
top U.S. riders, powerhouses in halfpipe and snowboard cross.

"PGS is not really big in the U.S.," said Tracy Anderson,
associate editor of Future Snowboarding, a leading snowboarding
publication. "A lot of people don't know it exists. The sport
in the U.S. is much more free-riding oriented."

Snowboard cross made a thrilling Olympic debut last week
with some exciting finishes, including U.S. favorite Lindsey
Jacobellis surrendering a gold medal in the women's race by
falling on the penultimate jump as she tried to grab her board.

The success of snowboard cross may further hit the
popularity of parallel giant slalom. Several riders were irked
that their course was created by flattening the snowboard cross
circuit, while heavy snow made training hard on Monday.

"There are still bumps from the snowboard cross," said
Daniela Meuli, Switzerland's top female PGS rider and favorite
for the women's competition on Thursday.

Despite the rise of snowboard cross, a showdown involving
the Swiss brothers should help parallel giant slalom back into
the headlines.