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Halfpipe team still up in the air

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ? Just who will ride halfpipe in the 2002 Winter Games remains as clear as a January blizzard going into the final U.S. qualification contest today.

At least a half dozen men have a shot at two open spots on the Olympic snowboard freestyle team to be announced Sunday afternoon. Meantime, the lone remaining women's berth could be a duel between a veteran rider who narrowly missed the 1998 Nagano Games and an up-and-comer.

After four Olympic selection halfpipe meets, only 1998 bronze medalists Ross Powers and Shannon Dunn and teenager Kelly Clark have secured places on the team.

U.S. Snowboard head coach Peter Foley likes that it has come down to do or die Sunday.

"That's kind of the way the Olympics work. If you can deal with that kind of pressure . . . "

Tommy "the Machine" Czeschin, Olympian Todd Richards, reigning U.S. champ Danny Kass and 15-year-old phenom Shaun White are among those who have to let it all hang out.

"I'm going to pull the pin (Sunday)," said Kass, the owner of a company called Grenade Gloves.

Czeschin's win here Thursday put him in prime position to go to the Olympics, but he knows crazy things could happen in the pressure-packed finale. "I'm just going to take it like any other day and go for it and ride my best," he said.

Tricia Byrnes, one of the top women snowboarders for a decade, and her close friend 20-year-old Gretchen Bleiler will likely be locked into an emotional battle for the final spot.

Byrnes injured her back in practice three days ago and was to undergo treatment Saturday night. She also planned to watch video of herself doing a McTwist, an inverted aerial with a 540-degree spin.

Then Sunday "go out there and not be conservative."

Though Byrnes, who has been touted as an Olympian all season, desperately wants to win, she won't begrudge Bleiler the spot. "We both deserve to go," she said.

Three women and at least three men will compete in the Winter Games next month. A fourth man will be on the bubble depending on how coaches decide to use the 14 U.S. freestyle and alpine slots in Salt Lake City.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com