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Canadian Wins First Gold On Board

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 1998; Page D1

YAMANOUCHI, Japan, Feb. 8 (Sunday) — Ross Rebagliati of Canada fought his way through heavy fog today to win the first Olympic medal for snowboarding, capturing the giant slalom with an aggregate time of 2 minutes 3.96 seconds.

Italy's Thomas Prugger was second in 2:03.98 and Ueli Kestenholz of Switzerland was third in 2:04.08.

The United States was expected to win its first medal in this event, and Chris Klug seemed poised to make that happen after finishing second in the first run. But he and Jasey-Jay Anderson of Canada, the leader after the first run, struggled on their fog-shrouded second runs and finished sixth and 13th, respectively.

In just 15 years, snowboarding has gone from the persecuted fringe to hip respectability. A pinnacle may have been reached today, however, when more than 7,000 spectators lined the bottom of the course with horns, flags and seemingly endless enthusiasm.

The women will compete in the giant slalom on Monday (Sunday night EST), and both men and women will compete in the half-pipe competition on Thursday (Wednesday night EST). Half-pipe, which features aerial jumps and spins, has always been the more glamorous discipline. But with bright blue skies framing Mt. Yakebitai this morning and the wild fog conditions in the afternoon, it was hard to imagine a more alluring competition.

"It was such a sensation pulling into the finish," said Klug, who noted he has never competed before a crowd this big before. "The half-pipe has a tremendous amount of exposure, but not many people know the giant slalom. Maybe after this that will change."

Mike Jacoby of Oregon was expected to contend for the gold medal but had problems getting around a gate midway through the course on his first run, losing valuable time and putting him out of medal contention.

The other U.S. rider, Adam Hostetter, was disqualified after the first run for missing the final gate. The U.S. team filed a protest on his behalf, but a video review showed him riding just inches inside the marker instead of outside, as required. Canada's Mark Fawcett, another gold medal favorite, was also knocked out in the first run after his board broke midway through the course, sending him sliding into a thin blue nylon barrier.

A deep, guttural grown arose from the crowd when Fawcett went down, even though it was obvious he was unhurt. Many of the spectators waved Japanese flags, but since there were no Japanese competitors, they spread their encouragement and sympathy around freely and often cheered harder for the slower riders.

France's Matthieu Bozzetto, whose hair is dyed a day-glow red, set off a series of arm waving and chants just by pointing to his head. A few minutes after the first run was over, the crowd almost got too rowdy as several fans toward a front railing began getting crushed. Jacoby, still milling around the finishing area, ran over to help, although volunteers allayed any danger in a matter of seconds.

It was the second time of the day Jacoby interacted with the crowd. After his first run, he raised his board toward the fans, drawing rowdy acclaim despite his slow finish. He also earned accolades for his brightly colored, hand-painted helmet, which featured a green gargoyle, a yellow sun and white flowers.

"When I was 16 years old, they tried to get me to go pro, but I wouldn't do it because I thought the sport would be in the Olympics one day," said Jacoby, who now competes on the pro circuit. "I just didn't realize how long it would take.

"To me, this means so much. A whole new generation of children are sitting in front of the television today and saying I want to be in the Olympics for snowboarding."

Jacoby's stumble in the opening run left the door open for Klug, who has been snowboarding for more than 16 years. He almost didn't get here at all, however. An all-state high school quarterback at Mountainview High School in Bend, Ore., Klug was recruited by several small colleges and by Oregon State.

"I was pretty scrawny in high school, maybe this height but 50 pounds less," said Klug, who is now 6 feet 3, 210 pounds. "The hardest decision of my life was which to pursue, snowboarding or football. I didn't know at the time snowboarding was Olympic bound, and some of the memories I have from high school football are the best I have."

Klug said earning some money in his first year on the professional snowboarding circuit made the decision easier, although "it was kind of a leap of faith." He currently has two years of credit at Middlebury College, although his placement here may defer a degree even further.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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