Just as organizers had hoped, snowboarding sparked new interest in the Winter Games when it was added to the Olympics in Nagano in 1998. The 2002 U.S. medal sweep in men's halfpipe added to the buzz among American youngsters. Now comes a new discipline -- snowboard cross, which makes its Olympic debut in Turin. It's a wild hybrid of snowboarding's two other Olympic disciplines -- halfpipe, a judged sport in which riders do stunts in a half-cylinder carved in the snow; and parallel giant slalom, a timed sport in which boarders race side-by-side down a slope on identical courses.
In snowboard cross, boarders race in packs on an obstacle course littered with such elements as whoops, waves, banks, kickers and spines. The competition begins with qualifying, in which each rider takes two runs on the course alone. The 32 boarders with the fastest single run advance to the elimination phase, in which they race in groups of four. The fastest two in each group advance to the next round. Heats are held until the field is winnowed to four, who will scramble for the medals in one final run. As in short-track speedskating, some contact is inevitable. But intentional pushing or toppling of an opponent is grounds for disqualification.
Reigning world champion Seth Wescott, 29, of Farmington, Maine, is expected to square off for the gold with good friend Xavier Delerue, 27, a Frenchman. Wescott was a multi-sport athlete growing up in North Carolina; his father coached 1984 Olympic marathon winner Joan Benoit at N.C. State.