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Friday, February 15, 2002
After the sweep, boarders clean up

By Tim Keown
ESPN The Magazine

PARK CITY, Utah -- The setting was a swank office complex on Main Street in Park City, where more animals are killed in the name of clothing than anywhere south of the Aleutians. The bad boys turned golden boys were signing their names and posing for pictures as they entered the final stage of the Olympic experience: Cashing in.

Halfpipe snowboarders Ross Powers, Danny Kass and JJ Thomas looked a little out of place, but the medals around their necks give them permanent access to the halls of commerce and media.

They were signing for a group of "guests" of a heavyweight financial institution that recently signed them to endorsement deals. (Said heavyweight institution asked not to be identified, for some reason not entirely clear at press time.)

You're going to be seeing a lot of the dudes who swept the halfpipe, and there's good reason for that. The folks who make the decisions, while probably not well-versed in the intricacies of the halfpipe, have kids who think these three are the absolute (insert most recent hip term here).

Downstairs, while the boarders busied themselves with poses and smiles, their agents did 900s and 1080s with the cell phones. This deal sounds good, this one needs a little more, talk to your people and get back to me.

These guys are in high demand. Kass was planning to go back home to Mammoth, Calif., on Friday, but that might have to change. His agent, Bob Klein, was working on something that might make it worth the 19-year-old's time to hang out through the weekend.

As for the halfpipers themselves, they're a little overwhelmed by it all. Especially Thomas, the bronze medalist, whose personality seems to come closer to Harry Potter the Ski Jumper than the stereotypical snowboarding rebel.

"It's more than I could have guessed," Thomas said. "Standing on that medal stand with these guys and looking at the fans ... wow. Nothing like it."

Everyone who cared knew about Powers and Kass. In fact, Kass was held up as the Gen-X symbol of these Games, the poster boy for the Olympic mutation from staid, serious sports to the X Games mentality.

"The media just wants to go on the stereotype," he said. "You know, the crazy, long-haired teenage snowboarder. One guy at my first press conference asked me a question by saying something like, 'This looks like a sport you could do on drugs. Is that true?' I told him, 'Dude, I think you've been smoking acid.'"

They go from there to this, an ancillary hall of commerce, fulfilling the Olympic equation: Relative anonymity + medal performance = immediate respectability.

After they posed and signed, Thomas and Kass sat and ate head-sized sandwiches, dipping them into the gourmet soup. They're learning something about those things around their necks. It'll get 'em in just about anywhere.

Tim Keown writes for ESPN The Magazine.