Snowboarding's halfpipe competition has quickly evolved to become one of the more popular winter Olympic events. One of the early stars of the sport was American Ross Powers. The Olympic gold medalist is aiming to fly back to the top of the podium at the Turin Games in February.
Ross Powers received his first snowboard when he was eight years old. He went outside and tried it out, even though the weather was rainy. The next year, Powers was competing in his first U.S. Open competition with members of his fourth-grade class watching. Powers became a world snowboarding champion before his 18th birthday.
So it was little surprise that he became an Olympic gold medalist, leading a U.S. podium sweep in the men's halfpipe event at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.
Powers says he is amazed at how quickly the sport has evolved from a mere sideshow to a premier Olympic event.
"From the 1998 Olympics to now, in 1998 we were kind of pushed aside," he said. "We were way up in the mountains. We competed during the rain. It was the best two rounds combined [to determine the medals]. So people [fans] were not going for it as much. At the 2002 Olympics, it was the best one round out of two, [it was a] perfect halfpipe [course], the biggest crowds we had ever seen, and we were one of the sports to watch at the Olympics. And now going to 2006 after the showing in 2002, I think snowboarding is definitely one of the biggest sports to watch."
Powers says he reached the pinnacle of snowboarding when the sport itself came of age at the previous winter Olympics.
"I think 2002 showed what snowboarding was all about," he said. "It kind of brought our sport to the next level. So I think now everybody is excited about snowboarding. I feel like we are just like everyone else in the Olympics."
Not only has halfpipe snowboarding gained huge popularity in the past few years, but the way the athletes are judged has also changed. Powers describes some of the main differences between 2002 and the Turin Olympics next month.
"They changed it up since the 2002 Olympics," he explained. "Back then they judged you on five different things - one being amplitude, one being rotations and all that kind of stuff. And this year there are five judges, [and you are marked on] overall impression. And you have to do just one straight air [maneuver off the side of the halfpipe]. So it is definitely going to be a little bit different. It is kind of weird not having a criteria. But I think whoever is going to ride the best that day is going to win."
As in 2002, snowboarder Ross Powers will lead a very strong American men's halfpipe team at the Turin Winter Games, a team that is perhaps the best in the world.