<EM>Las Vegas</EM>' James Lesure with Kelly Clark and Gretchen Bleiler Las Vegas' James Lesure with Kelly Clark and Gretchen Bleiler

NBC's Las Vegas is coming down with Olympic fever. For tonight's episode (airing at 9 pm/ET), three top U.S. snowboarders  two of them 2002 gold medalists  will be the reigning celebrities at the show's Montecito Resort & Casino and star in a two-and-a-half-minute "minimovie" to promote the 2006 Winter Games at the end of the show. According to Olympics host NBC, the strategy of embedding hopefuls in a prime-time drama before the games is unprecedented.

The idea came from Las Vegas creator and executive producer Gary Scott Thompson, who says he wanted to take advantage of his network's preparations for broadcasting the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, beginning Feb. 10. "If NBC has the Olympics, then why can't we get some Olympians?" Thompson says.  

The athletes gold medalists Ross Powers and Kelly Clark, along with up-and-comer Gretchen Bleiler  aren't Olympic contenders quite yet. They're still in the last weeks of training for five qualifying events that run through January. But the U.S. Snowboarding Team gave its blessing to whisk them off the slopes of Copper Mountain, Colo., for one day of shooting on the Vegas set in Culver City, Calif. as long as no gambling is involved. While they're in the casino, the trio will have no lines but will sign autographs for an adoring crowd. Why the choice to include snowboarders, of all athletes? "Because they're cool," says Scott Thompson, "and we hear they like to party. They seem really Vegas-like." 

They also seem completely disoriented. "It's amazing in here," Powers, 26, reports from the set. "It feels like you're in a real casino." Sure, they can expertly talk about their boards, bindings, snow conditions and the death-defying tricks they'll perform on the half-pipe. But with their Vegas visit, they've chosen an all-together different game of chance, and Hollywood may as well be Mars. "I've never seen the show," admits Clark, 22, "but I'm kind of a dork. I like the History Channel."