NAGANO - These are not your grandfather's Olympians.
Looking more like they were ready for the X Games than the O Games, the U.S. snowboarders team took center stage Friday and set the old, established order on their collective ears. And they could be the best American chance for Olympic glory, not that the boarders seem to care much about that.
"This team is gonna be hot," said Lisa Kosglow, a silver medalist in giant slalom at last year's World Championship. "You're gonna see some great things. These women rip."
Not just the women. The men are among the best, too. The 14 men and women on the team include several present and former world champions.
With the men's giant slalom competition on Sunday the snowboarders have a great chance to win the first U.S. medals of this Winter Olympics. American downhill racers head down the mountain first Sunday morning, so they will have the chance to bring home the first U.S. medal. But as snowboarder Chris Klug snorted, "Do you really think that's going to happen?
"We're going to get the momentum moving for the whole country," said Klug, who has been one of the hottest snowboarders in the world lately. "We're going to get the first gold and get things rolling."
This is the first Olympics for snowboarding, and the U.S. team is acting like the tough, new kid on the block. The attitude of the whole team is nonchalant swagger. They say they're going to kick butt, even though winning the Olympics isn't that big a deal.
They're certainly the most casual of the American teams. As they walked onstage to meet the media, they peeled off their official team jackets under the hot stage lights. Most sat in T-shirts or polo shirts, though all did comply with team rules saying you have to wear the official gear at all times. They leaned back in their chairs, rolled their eyes at stupid questions and exchanged private jokes with each other when the whole thing got boring.
Asked how he coped with answering the same dumb questions over and over, Richards looked out at several hundred reporters and said, "I'm picturing you all naked."
Contrast that with the figure skaters who followed the snowboarders into the interview room. Each of the 11 skaters wore the same white turtleneck shirt and red, white and blue team jacket, zipped up about halfway. Each had the careful, coached answers of people concerned about their images in a sport that creates millionaires.
Even after success on the slopes, the boarders don't always get respect at home.
"I still get chased out of mall parking lots and supermarket parking lots with my skateboard," said Todd Richard, who is favored to win the men's halfpipe on Thursday.
How non-conventional is this sport? In what other sport would the athletes have to defend their decision to even appear in the Olympics?
"There's a fine line between selling out and buying in," said Richards, defending his decision to be in Nagano. "People up here are pure athletes. It's all about showcasing the world's best talent."
The world's top snowboarder, Terje Haakonsen, of Norway, doesn't share that sentiment. He said he would boycott the Games because the International Olympic Committee ran them like organized crime.
It's not that the snowboarders don't respect their fellow Olympians. In fact, Sondra Van Ert, is a former U.S. Ski Team member.
But once she tried snowboarding, it was so much fun, she's left her skis in the garage ever since.
The team talked a lot about fun and free riding, just going down the mountain without any thought of competition. But mostly they talked about having fun.
"The most stressful thing was getting here," said Klug. "Once you get here, it's easy. It's not like you have anything to lose."
"I'm treating this like just another event," said Lisa Kosglow. "We're racing against the same people we raced against all year. It's not a big deal. It's the Olympics."
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