PARK CITY, Utah -- Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas made history on the halfpipe Monday, giving the United States its first medals sweep in the Winter Olympics in 46 years.
Soaring 10 and 15 feet above the hollowed-out snow chute on a gorgeous, sun-kissed day, the Americans won all three medals in a Winter event for the first time since the 1956 men's figure skating team in Cortina, Italy.
It was only the second Winter Games sweep ever for the United States, and it was topped by Powers the day after his 23rd birthday.
"I couldn't ask for anything more," he said. "It's the best birthday present ever. These guys beside me is also huge. Today was just the perfect day."
The sweep bumped the United States up to six medals, including the halfpipe gold won Sunday by Kelly Clark, who was on hand to watch her countrymen sweep.
The chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A, U.S.A" were deafening.
An estimated 30,000 fans - many of them who came when the women's downhill event was postponed because of weather - waved their flags, clanged their cowbells and soaked in the hippest Olympic sport.
Although it was an American day, maybe the mohawk haircut of Finnish seventh-place finisher Heikki Sorsa said the most about the soul of a sport dominated by Gen-Xers.
Powers set the winning mark of 46.1 early. He was the fourth rider to hit the snow, and his very first push above the rim of the pipe was stunning - his body flying 15 feet in the air, parallel to the ground, with the sun overhead making for a picturesque silhouette.
Kass, the 19-year-old future of the sport, had two chances to top the 1998 bronze medalist. He was incredible in his own way, but his corkscrew turn and his famed "Kasserole spin" - two upside-down twists while grabbing the board - weren't enough to win gold. He scored a 42.5.
The 20-year-old Thomas won the bronze on his second ride with an equally impressive run, pulling a 2 1/2 -revolution spin and soaring almost as high as Powers.
Sixth-place finisher Tommy Czeschin was the only American left out of the party. His first run put him in third place, but after Thomas overtook him, Czeschin needed to go higher. He thought he did, but when his score was posted, he looked on in disbelief, and the crowd booed.
But really, it was hard to call any American a loser on this day.
Snowboarding is a distinctly American sport, created on a lark by a man in Michigan, Sherman Poppen, who in 1965 braced a pair of skis together and tied them with a rope so he could give his daughters something to do during the winter.
He called the contraption a Snurfer, combining the words snow and surfer. A few years later, entrepreneur Jake Burton Carpenter improved the snowboard and started the wave that continues to this day.
When the International Olympic Committee added snowboarding in 1998, many questioned whether the so-called "lifestyle sport" really belonged in the Olympics - too stodgy for the halfpipe, the critics said.
A lot of those doubts are bound to die down, and this American sweep will surely play a big role.
"This is completely different than anything I've ever seen or done," Thomas said before the finals. "It sets the standards for snowboarding. I'm having a blast."
Nobody had more fun than Powers, a "veteran" of the sport compared with Kass, if only because he has previous Olympic experience and a gold medal from the 2000 Goodwill Games.
He's also an X-Games veteran, although his greatest success came in 1998, when he won two golds at the competition that used to be considered the pinnacle of this sport.
"This is probably the best halfpipe I've ever been on," Powers said. "And when you're up there and this crowd starts cheering for all the guys in the U.S., it's amazing. It's the biggest contest ever."
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