Wednesday, February 8, 2006
The U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team may win the most medals of any American team in Italy.
Behind halfpipe superstars Shaun White and Snowmass Village's Gretchen Bleiler, the Americans are positioned to win some serious hardware in 2006.
"In halfpipe, the U.S. team is super strong," said Jon Casson, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club program director. "The (men) certainly have a chance to repeat their medal sweep, but the international field has caught up."
One discipline in which the international field expects to dominate is in the parallel giant slalom. The French, Swiss and Austrians excel in snowboard racing because the Europeans -- whether it's skiing or snowboarding -- are in love with their winter sports speedsters.
"The racing caught on in Europe quicker," Casson said.
The parallel giant slalom is set up much like a giant slalom skiing race. Snowboarders are racing against a competitor and the clock, but they must go cleanly around all slalom gates on the slope.
The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club sends an international mix of athletes to this year's Oly--mpic parallel giant slalom. Tyler Jew--ell, who has trained in Steamboat for the past three years, and Michelle Gorgone, who went to The Lowell Whiteman School and trained with the Winter Sports Club while in high school, are on the U.S. parallel giant slalom team.
"Tyler has been through a ton of ups and downs in his snowboard career," Casson said. "He has sacrificed a ton and dedicated everything he has to get to this goal. We are so proud of Tyler and his accomplishments."
Johanna Shaw and Phillip Berube will represent the Winter Sports Club for Australia and Canada, respectively. The duo is in the United States to work with Thedo Remmelink, the Winter Sports Club's race coach.
Snowboarding had its debut in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, but the sport continues to evolve. Snowboardcross, a wild race over jumps and around turns, makes its first appearance at this year's Olympics.
"Snowboardcross is interesting because it's freestyle racing," Casson said. "You get both worlds.
Jason Smith and Erin Simmons aren't members of the Winter Sports Club, but both have ties to Steamboat. Smith trains here between events, and Simmons lives here. Smith is part of a deep men's field that includes Seth Wescott and Nate Holland. All three are in the top 10 in the World Cup rankings.
"The U.S. men are strong," Casson said. "Four guys have podiumed at the World Cup level."
Simmons will compete for the Canadian team, and it's possible the women north of the border could sweep the podium. Canadians Dom--inique Maltais and Maelle Ricker are first and second in the world standings. America's best hope for a medal is Vermont's Lindsey Jacobellis. The defending World Champion already has a Visa commercial.
The snowboarding events begin with the men's halfpipe Feb. 12 and the women's halfpipe Feb. 13. The men's snowboardcross is Feb. 16. The women compete Feb. 17. Snowboarding events wrap up with the men's parallel giant slalom Feb. 22 and the women's race Feb. 23.
All snowboarding events will be held 55 miles west of Turin at the Melezet Ski Complex in Bardonecchia, Italy.