How did this happen? The “sport of snowboarding is already entering its third Olympics, this time in Torino, Italy. Let’s take a moment to reflect. The Nagano Olympic pipe event took place in the pouring rain with a bunch of skiers operating as our new governing body (the FIS—Federation Internationale de Ski). Terje Haakonsen stayed home boycotting the event. Canadian racer Ross Rebagliati won a gold medal, got it taken away when he tested positive for weed, and finally got it back after a bunch of red tape. And of course, the mainstream media wouldn’t shut up about snowboarder lingo, “Dude, bro busted a sweet air … et cetera, ad nauseum.

Four years passed, and the Olympics came to our home turf in Salt Lake City, Utah. Team America killed it under sunny skies in a perfectly groomed Superpipe at Park City, with the U.S. men’s halfpipe trifecta by Ross Powers, Danny Kass, and J.J. Thomas, and Kelly Clark rounded it out with a first-place finish in the women’s pipe. It was the best-case scenario. The Grenade team threw a party of legendary proportions back at the U.S. Snowboard Team house, where Danny lost his silver medal, and then found it again right before going on The Today Show. The mainstream media loved Danny, but not as much as they loved snowboard racer Chris Klug—who won bronze in the men’s parallel giant slalom, get this, just nineteen months after receiving a liver transplant … but you already knew that, didn’t you?

The Olympics are cool like that, though. The stories behind the athletes are what suck you in, and before you know it, you’re rooting passionately for the GS skiers and figure skaters despite yourself. This year, you’ll also have a chance to root passionately for boardercross, which will debut at this winter Olympics, yes, boardercross. We’ll also say good-bye to some GS and slalom racers who’ve been traveling on the racing circuit since before there was the slightest hope of Olympic snowboarding.

The Olympics are also the express route for athletes’ financial success and worldwide snowboarding exposure. For example, the Salt Lake Winter Games were watched by 2.1-billion people around the world … on every continent. Before the Olympics, Ross Powers’ sponsor list was two companies long: Burton and Arnette. After winning Olympic gold, he racked up heavy sponsors including RLX (Ralph Lauren), Nestea, PowerBar, and Activision.

Whether you love them, hate them,  the Olympics are coming to Italy and to a big-screen TV near you. Get ready to learn more about the Kratter brothers (the stars of Italian snowboarding) than you ever wanted to know, to laugh, to cry, and to see what goes down in the third Olympic halfpipe showdown.

The action starts February 10, 2006. —Annie Fast

Olympics Halfpipe Results—Both Of ‘Em

Nagano, Japan 1998

Men’s Halfpipe

Gold, Gian Simmen, Switzerland

Silver, Daniel Franck, Norway

Bronze, Ross Powers, U.S.A.

Women’s Halfpipe

Gold, Nicola Thost, Germany

Silver, Stine Brun Kjeldaas, Norway

Bronze, Shannon Dunn, U.S.A.

Salt Lake City, Utah 2002

Men’s Halfpipe

Gold, Ross Powers, U.S.A.

Silver, Danny Kass, U.S.A.Bronze, J.J. Thomas, U.S.A.

Women’s Halfpipe

Gold, Kelly Clark, U.S.A.

Silver, Doriane Vidal, France

Bronze, Fabienne Reuteler, Switzerland