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Snowboarding: No, Seriously...I Am the World Champ

News from the Field, February 1997

Snowboarding: No, Seriously...I Am the World Champ

Jeff Greenwood's Olympic-size struggle to prove he's the best
By Mike Finkel

It was snowy mayhem: a pack of boisterous, red-cheeked boys, Jeff Greenwood's teammates on the U.S. Snowboard Team, hoisting the bashful 21-year-old to their shoulders and parading him through the cheering crowd as if he were their very own five-foot, eight-inch Stanley Cup. Greenwood, a Connecticut native, had taken the gold in the giant slalom at the 1996 World Snowboard Championships in Leinz, Austria. But not everybody in the sport was catching Greenwood Fever that day. In fact, a big slice of the snowboarding world greeted the news with a "Jeff who?"

Greenwood, who this month heads to Sestriere, Italy, a favorite to take the world championships again, was champ of only half the snowboarding world: that governed by the Federation International du Ski, the same organization that oversees World Cup and Olympic skiing. Its more established rival, the International Snowboard Federation, barely acknowledged Greenwood's existence. Relations between the two organizations had been awkward since 1993, when the FIS first started holding snowboard races. "The ISF thinks we suck," says Peter Boyer, coach of the FIS-sanctioned U.S. Snowboard Team. "But those people are having to realize that the U.S. team doesn't suck."

"Having to realize" is the key phrase. To the chagrin of the ISF, the International Olympic Committee chose the FIS to oversee the sport's historic debut at next year's Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Which is when things got stickier still. Both sides, for instance, ruled against allowing athletes to compete on the opposing circuit, forcing riders to align with one federation or the other.

Greenwood, who says he's "just trying to stay focused to win a gold medal," doesn't pay much attention to the bickering. Born in Hartford, he doesn't fit the sport's stereotype. In fact, he looks rather like the student council president--no tattoos, no tongue-piercings--yet going fast on a snowboard was his raison d'etre from age 15. He chose Maine's Carrabassett Valley Academy for high school in part because it had a snowboarding team.

"I wish there was a way to just put all this behind us," Greenwood says, perhaps naively. "Is that so much to ask?" It might not be. A plan is being hammered out in which top riders from both tours will ride against one another in a few races before the Games. Results will be used to select an interleague squad."That would be great," intones Greenwood, mumbling shyly. "I hope I make it."

Still, many riders believe that real peace is a long way off. And when Greenwood, or whoever wins this month, is hoisted on the shoulders of the American team and hailed as world champ, those words will likely fall on deaf ears throughout at least half the snowboarding world.

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