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Surprises in Snowboarding Slalom - 2002-02-16

A man who has never been on the podium before and a woman who crashed out in the final round of the 1998 Olympics have won the parallel slalom snowboarding titles at the Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah. Philipp Schoch of Switzerland took the men's title while Isabelle Blanc of France upset reigning champion Karine Ruby to win the women's crown.

Philipp Schoch was not expected to win the men's parallel slalom snowboard event, but he proved the prognosticators wrong. The 15th-seeded Schoch powered his way through many higher seeded skiers, including second seed Alexander Maier of Austria, the brother of Alpine skiing star Hermann Maier.

Schoch had never been on the podium in a World Cup, World Championship or Olympic event, but he was able to beat 1999 world champion Richard Richardsson of Sweden to take the gold medal.

After the race, Schoch said through a translator that some might have considered him a no-name, but he proved them wrong. "It's right that I have not been competing a lot in the FIS, but I always have been up front in the races especially in Europe and it is not true that I am a no-name athlete," he said. "I am actually quite famous, the name is out there."

Richardsson took the silver medal and the bronze went to sentimental favorite Chris Klug of the United States, who underwent a liver transplant less than two years ago and returned to World Cup competition only four month's later. Klug's medal puts the U.S. team above its total four years ago with 14, the most the United States has ever won in a Winter Games.

Klug said U.S. snowboarder's successes early in the games inspired him. "You know it really was the halfpipers that got us all started here," he said. "I watched Kelly Clarke win her gold and watched Ross [Powers] and the guys kill it the other day as well. It made me feel if they can do it I can do it. I tried Ross and Kelly's medals on and said 'hey I want one of those'."

In the women's competition, the title was a race between two French teammates Isabelle Blanc and Karine Ruby. Blanc had fallen from second to 22nd in 1998 when she crashed through her last gate in Nagano. Ruby was the defending Olympic champion and a five-time World Champion. Blanc said that she was overjoyed to finally reach her goal of being an Olympic champion. "I said before this season that there were two thing's I wanted to accomplish, to win the World Cup at Alp d'Huez [France] which is my place and to win the Olympics," she said. "I won at Alp d'huez with Karine Ruby in the finals and I won the Olympic Games with Karine Ruby in the finals so I could not have even dreamed of something like this."

Blanc also said winning the gold medal has inspired her to write a song for her fallen teammate Regine Cavagnoud, who was killed in a training accident earlier this season. The bronze medal went to Italian Lidia Trettel, who was fourth at the Nagano games four years ago.