Monday, February 11, 2002 Updated: February 15, 4:46 PM ET
Powers leads U.S. medals sweep in halfpipe
PARK CITY, Utah -- Gold, silver, bronze. Red, white and
Danny Kass, Ross Powers and J.J. Thomas led the American's first Winter medal sweep since 1956.
Snowboarders Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas rendered
those colors interchangeable and indivisible Monday, giving the
United States its first medals sweep in the Winter Olympics in 46
With chants of "USA, USA, USA" coming from the crowd of
30,000, the three Americans made history on the halfpipe, soaring
into the sunshine for an unforgettable Olympic moment.
They catapulted their Gen X sport out of the fringe and into the
spotlight -- and put America alone on the medals stand.
"I couldn't ask for anything more," said Powers, who turned 23
on Sunday. "It's the best birthday present ever. These guys beside
me is also huge. Today was just the perfect day."
Flying 10 and 15 feet above the hollowed-out snow chute, the
Americans won all three medals in a Winter event for the first time
since the 1956 Cortina Games, when the U.S. men's figure skating
team did it.
It was only the second Winter Games sweep ever for the United
States, and it was topped by Powers, who adds gold to the bronze
medal he won in Nagano four years ago.
The sweep bumped the United States up to six medals in these
Olympics, including the halfpipe gold won Sunday by Kelly Clark,
who was on hand to watch her countrymen sweep. Before the games,
the Americans said they hoped to win a total of 20 medals.
Germany and Austria are tied with the United States for overall medals.
On Monday, it was a rare sweep in front of frenzied, flag-waving
It was the biggest crowd any of these athletes had performed
for, a turnout boosted when high winds postponed the women's
downhill event and sent thousands down the mountain to check out
Getting a medal is just downright radical. ”
— 19-year-old silver -medalist Danny Kass
And really, there was no better place to be on this day.
After all, where else would fans have taken in the sight of
Finnish star snowboarder Heikki Sorsa, who used an entire can of
hairspray to spike his hair and give himself a foot-high mohawk?
How about a rock band playing during intermission?
Or the way the winners celebrated, signing the bare breasts of
an avid fan? (Thomas took care of the left, and Powers did the
Olympic victories are supposed to put athletes on Wheaties
boxes, but maybe not this time.
"I'm going to be on the Count Chocula box!" Kass yelled.
That's snowboarding -- X-treme, X-citing, X-hilirating, and
something America and the world will see much more of in the wake
of this unprecedented success.
"It's a fun sport," Powers said. "It's people listening to
music, having a fun time, going for it. Everyone's friends."
Powers set the winning mark of 46.1 early. He was the fourth
rider to hit the snow in the finals, 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
"Probably the highest airs I've ever done in my life," he
Further down the chute, he made two full revolutions, once while
doing a somersault in the air. He did tricks with names like "mute
grab," "stalefish," and "switch McTwist," each one more daring
than the next, and all with landings as smooth as the shiny ice on
the sides of the pipe.
It came after a harrowing fall in his first qualifying run. That
could have made him nervous, but he recovered, made a great second
run to advance to the finals and then went on the ride of his life
for the gold.
Kass, the 19-year-old future of the sport, had two chances to
Listening to a compilation of music through his earphones while
he went down the chute -- Metallica, AC/DC, Black Sabbath -- Kass 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, and it was
still a great day.
"Getting a medal is just downright radical," he said.
The 20-year-old Thomas won the bronze on his second ride with an
equally impressive run, pulling a 2½-revolution spin and soaring
almost as high as Powers.
"I just had fun on that second run," he said. "I watched
these guys do it and I just followed up. It's not about me. It's
about Ross. Ross is the man."
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
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
When the International Olympic Committee added snowboarding in
1998, many questioned whether the so-called "lifestyle sport"
belonged in the Olympics.
Carpenter was one of the skeptics, but he couldn't deny the
magic of this moment.
"This is a whole new level," he said. "You wouldn't get
riding like that if this was a cutthroat sport. They were out there
pulling for each other."
Indeed, the runners-up were happy for Powers, a "veteran" of
the sport compared to Kass and Thomas, if only because he has
previous Olympic experience.
He's also an X-Games veteran, although his greatest success in
those games came back in 1998, when he won two golds at the
competition that used to be considered the pinnacle of this sport.
"I'm sure after this, the public will see how far snowboarding
has come," Thomas said. "They'll see the time we had today. And
they'll see this is one of the funnest sports in the world."