PARK CITY, UT Nov. 22, 2002 (USSA Release)--Hometown favorite Erik Schlopy (Park City), skiing his best in 20 months, was almost as hot as the unseasonal weather Friday, producing the third-fastest second run and finishing fifth in the Chevy Truck America's Opening. Swiss great Michael Von Gruenigen won his 21st GS, his third in Park City, while Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) "threw a shoe" coming out of his skis when his left binding releases about 15 gates into the first run.
Von Gruenigen, third in the first run, had a two-run time of 2:23.08 with Austrians Christian Mayer and Benjamin Raich finishing second and third. Schlopy's time was 2:23.45.
Dane Spencer (Boise, ID) was tied for 22nd in the 50-degree weather, under a cloudless sky on Park City Mountain Resort's CB's Run. Thomas Vonn (Newburgh, NY) was 27th.
"It's one step forward. It was no Soelden," U.S. Head Coach Phil McNichol said, referring to the season opening GS Oct. 27 on the Rettenbach Glacier above Soelden, Austria, when the U.S. Ski Team started eight racers and only Miller, who was fifth, finished.
In the first run, Schlopy came out of the No. 41 start and devoured the well-rutted course, posting the 11th-fastest time. He said his experience on the pro tour during 1995-98 helped as he overcame the ragged conditions.
SCHLOPY: "RIDING THE WILD RIDE"
"We were riding the wild ride. Yeah, I was back in the 'Dream Machine.' I have to get that van back," Schlopy said smiling as he referred to the van he used as he was training on his own while attempting to return to the U.S. Ski Team in 1998-99. (When he had a bad day, he called the van 'Death Star'.
"In the first run, conditions definitely dictated how I was gonna ski. I didn't want to have another Soelden, didn't want a repeat performance. None of the guys did. So, I said, 'I've got to go for it, but in a smart way.' I was tactically smart I didn't take any big chances," he explained.
"I knew it was gonna be bumpy. It's warm out there. It's not ideal conditions to attack from the back," he said. However, strong course reports from McNichol, Head SL/GS Coach Martin Andersen and finally from Vonn, who had gone down minutes before Schlopy's start, set him up for what he'd find.
"Second run I let it rip where I wanted to but I don't think I was really going for it," Schlopy said. "I was tactically very conservative in a lot of areas."
Apart from all the miles he's skied at Park City Mountain Resort, Schlopy, a sports ambassador for the resort, said he felt comfortable knowing the way the race crew manicures the course. "They do a great job of putting on the race," he said.
HARD-SNOW TRAINING HELPS U.S. ABOUT-FACE
McNichol and Andersen said their post-Soelden discussions were well received, paying off with Friday's dramatically improved results. They knew there was a risk in letting the veteran skiers have extra time off after the 2002 Winter Games, but they felt even with some ski changes (including Miller, Schlopy and Spencer) and the necessary time for adjusting to new equipment, it was worth the gamble to keep the athletes racing. The unseen speed bump came with soft snow in Europe in October. In the last two weeks, though, the Ski Team found good training in Colorado and sharpened its skills.
"We got to train on ice," Andersen said, "and it gave our guys confidence in their skis, especially Erik. One and one-half weeks ago, I was a little bit worried, but going into this race, I was really confident he could do well.
"You'll see some top-ranked guys, when they get bad conditions, they're thrown all over the hill, but not Erik," Andersen said. "It's nice to have someone carrying the flag up front when one falls out. I'm very happy."
And Miller? "His ski came off. End of story," Andersen said.
Miller said he had no problems with his left knee, which underwent arthroscopic surgery a week earlier by Dr. Richard Steadman, who removed several calcium chips. "Iff you hit the bumps wrong, your ski will come off," he said.
McNichol added, "I'm of the opinion there were many years we didn't have anyone leading the way in terms of winning when we had retirements, so we didn't know how good we were. And then we came to races and we struggled.
"Now, it's almost as if the guys are struggling on the other end of the spectrum. They're so good in training, doing so well against the other nations when we cross-train. Now it's a matter of hitting the pace in the events. With the maturity and the depth we have, the sky's the limit.
"Today was a good day, but it's just the beginning," according to McNichol. "I really believe the guys are gonna take care of business."
The men race slalom Sunday, the final event of the Chevy Truck America's Opening.
ALPINE WORLD CUP SKIING
Chevy Truck Super Series
1. Michael Von Gruenigen, Switzerland, 2:23.08
2. Christian Mayer, Austria, 2:23.36
3. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 2:23.39
4. Massimiliano Blardone, Italy, 2:23.40
5. Erik Schlopy, Park City, UT, 2:23.45
22T. Dane Spencer, Boise, ID, 2:24.81
27. Thomas Vonn, Newburgh, NY, 2:25.12
Did not qualify for 2nd run:
Jake Zamansky, Carbondale, CO; TJ Lanning, Park City, UT
Bode Miller, Franconia, NH; Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, CA