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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 07:14 GMT

Sport: Winter Olympics 98: Snowboard

Snowboard halfpipe overshadowed by drug controversy
image: [ Cara Beth Burnside is backing Rebagliati ]
Cara Beth Burnside is backing Rebagliati

Germany's Nicola Thost and Switzerland's Gian Simmen won have won the gold medals in the women's and men's halfpipe in a competition overshadowed by the controversy over Ross Rebagliati.

The Canadian has been stripped of his gold medal in the men's giant slalom, after he tested positive for marijuana.

Under a heavy downpour, Simmen twisted, flipped and spun down the snow trough, his hat flying off during one midair twist, to take the men's gold with a combined two-run total of 85.2 points.

Norway's Daniel Franck won the silver with 82.4 points and 18-year-old Ross Powers of the United States took the bronze with 82.1.

Thost captured the women's event with 74.6 points. Norway's Stine Brun Kjeldaas won the silver with 74.2 and Shannon Dunn of the United States, the leader going into the final run, got the bronze with 72.8.

Dunn fell out of contention for the gold when she lost her balance on her last run, sat back and nearly fell. She recovered to finish the run but lost valuable points.

The halfpipe competition

In the competition, boarders ride back and forth down a halfpipe measuring 120 meters (394 feet) long and 15.4 meters (51 feet) wide, with walls 3.5 meters (11 1/2) high.

They are judged on between eight and 10 skateboard style manoeuvres with names like McTwist, Alley-oop, Backside, Indy Grab, Stale Fish and Mute Grab.

Marks are given for factors including aerial rotation, height, landing and technical merit.

Competitors runs are accompanied by an eclectic mix of music, ranging through rock, reggae, hip hop and grunge, including songs by Jimi Hendrix, Oasis, Beck, Queen, Blondie, Bob Marley and Jim Morrison.

Snowboarders back Rebagliati.

Rebagliati gets the support of his teammates(53")
However the medals have taken a back seat to the controversy over the disqualification of Ross Rebagliati.

After completing his first qualifying run, Canadian rider Michael Michalchuck unfurled a sign reading: "Ross is the champion. Give him the gold back."

"I believe in Ross," Michalchuck said. "He's the gold medalist. No one can deny him. He believes he hasn't done anything wrong. He's an athlete. He's an Olympic athlete. He is the champion. No one should be taking that away from him."

"He still won the gold medal to me," said U.S. rider Cara-Beth Burnside. "Everyone's just furious about it. It's not affecting his performance"

Another American, Michelle Taggart, said, "It's ridiculous. Once they start testing other athletes, there are going to be a lot more situations that come up. I just feel bad for Ross."

Anita Schwaller of Switzerland said Olympics organizers were making a big mistake: "It's so ridiculous," she said. "No one's riding faster (because of drugs). It's not good for the image of the sport. It's not the riders who wanted to be in the Olympics. They wanted us. It's a more liberal sport."

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