Untitled Document Lindsey Jacobellis has never been in the Olympics. Yet, she already is one of the faces of the Turin Games, arguably as recognizable as anyone else on the U.S. team.

Jacobellis’ long, curly blonde hair and her wide smile, along with the growing popularity of her sport, convinced Visa to feature her in a commercial. The three-time X Games snowboard champion is featured in a check card ad titled “Nervous” that debuted in November. She also has had a photo spread in Seventeen magazine.

One of the “young guns” in snowboarding, Jacobellis could be-come an even bigger star in Turin. She is a medal favorite in the snowboard cross (SBX), an event that will make its Olympic debut in 2006, and she also could compete in the halfpipe.

The snowboard cross has been compared to a NASCAR race. Four riders navigate an alpine course made up of whoops (moguls), waves, banks, kickers and spines (jumps with 90-degree angles), a beat-the-clock, beat-the-pack, no-style-points race to the finish.

“It’s going to be really spectator-friendly, especially for an American public that doesn’t really understand the nuances of the freestyle side of the sport,” says Seth Wescott, the 2005 SBX Worlds champion.

Wescott is a medal favorite. Ja-cobellis, also a favorite to medal, will face Austria’s Doresia Krings, the reigning World Cup champion.

“I plan to try my hardest this year,” Jacobellis says. Snowboarding has come a long way since it was introduced at the Nagano Games in 1998.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, Kelly Clark became the first American ever to win gold in the American-invented sport. A day later, the U.S. men then did her two better, sweeping gold, silver and bronze in the halfpipe with Ross Powers, Danny Kass and J.J. Thomas going 1-2-3.

“In ‘98, we were kind of pushed aside,” says Powers, who is trying to defend his gold medal. “But I think 2002 showed what snowboarding is all about. It kind of brought our sport to the next level.” It marked the first medals sweep for the United States in any Winter Games since men’s figure skating in 1956.

Kass, Clark and Chris Klug, the 2002 bronze medalist in the parallel giant slalom, also are vying for a return this year. They will be joined by the “young guns,” including Jacobellis and teenage sensations Hannah Teter and Shaun White.

White, 19, has six won Winter X Games medals in his career, including four golds. He figures to challenge Powers, Kass and Steve Fisher, the 2004 X Ga-mes champion, in the halfpipe.

Teter graduated from high school last spring, but she has become one of the best in the world in the halfpipe. “I have four older brothers, and I’m the youngest,” Teter says. “So I was always into what they were doing, and always wanting to be a part of the boys. I just kind of felt this fearless attitude.”

Teter looks and acts the part of a snowboarder. Asked about Olympic snowboard judging, Teter says, “They look for style and for whoever’s throwin’ down that day, who’s smooth, and whoever just looks really, really ridiculously good looking.”

© 2006, KRT.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.