Snowboarding makes its third Olympic appearance at the Turin Games, but this toddler of the Winter Games has proved to be one of the more dynamic and entertaining sports, combining the daring of acrobatics and the improvisation of surfing the sides of a half-cylinder carved in snow. Set to blaring rock music, the competition gets underway with the women's halfpipe. The tricks have evolved substantially since 2002, when American Kelly Clark won gold in Salt Lake City.
Pacing the 2006 U.S. squad is Colorado's Gretchen Bleiler, 24, who won four of the five qualifying events. Bleiler's signature trick is called a Crippler 540 (an inverted aerial with 1 1/2 flips), and she's working on becoming the first woman to perfect an off-axis back flip known as the Michalchuk. The U.S. squad also has hopes for Hannah Teter, 19, who is known for her big airs and massive tricks. Still, it's tricky to gauge the readiness of the U.S. boarders because they don't routinely compete on the World Cup circuit.
Tops among the international delegation are Doriane Vidal of France, who won silver at the 2002 Olympics and is second in the World Cup standings; and Japan's Melo Imai, 18, who won the 2004-05 World Cup title.
The finals will be contested among the 12 women with the highest scores after two qualifying runs. The finals consist of two runs, but the medals will be awarded based on each athlete's best single run. It's a subjective sport, with five judges handing out scores on a 10-point scale based on factors such as style and amplitude.