Breckenridge, CO. Dec. 7--The first official disabled World Cup skiraces were held in snowy conditions Tuesday and mono-skier Joe Tompkins(Juneau, AK) grabbed the first victory for a U.S. athlete, capturing atwo-run "sprint" downhill in the sitting skiers category. Veterans GregMannino (Vail, CO), Mary Riddell (Dove Creek, CO) and Bobby McMullen (Redding,CA) also turned-in top-3 results despite the worsening conditions.
"I'm pretty pleased right now with the way we've trained, and this wasa good - not great, not what we can do when we're all healthy - startfor us," said U.S. Head Coach Ewald Zirbisegger, one of the driving forcesbehind International Ski Federation sanctioning of a World Cup schedule."Our peak will not come here at Breckenridge because our focus is to beready for the World Championships in late January and February in Switzerland,and the majority of our athletes are not 'there' yet. Still, this is agood start for us...and to finally have the World Cup official with FISis especially satisfying."
Disabled skiers compete in three categories - blind, sitting and standingskiers; a factoring system designed to accommodate disabilities helpscreate one-class results within each category. Disabled skiers have heldunofficial World Cup races for the past two seasons and this winter marksthe official start of the Disabled World Cup schedule. The Breckenridgeschedule calls for downhills Tuesday and Wednesday, slalom Thursday andgiant slalom Friday. Because of the mild temperatures and lack of snow, organizers decidedto stage a two-run downhill, as has been done in able-bodied World Cupraces when conditions necessitate the change. By afternoon, snow and gustingwinds created problems for the racers. "They do it on the able-bodiedWorld Cup and we can do this. The important thing," Zirbisegger said,"is we had a safe race and a fair one."
Tompkins, who was paralyzed in a 1988 car crash and didn't start ski racinguntil the 1996 season, was timed in an adjusted 1:47.80 with CanadianDaniel Wesley second in an adjusted time of 1:48.25 and German Karl Lotzthird (1:48.36). Chris Waddell (Granby, MA), fighting a heavy cold thatthreatened to keep him out of the race, according to Zirbisegger, wassixth. "I'm surprised and excited," Tompkins said. "I don't know how I did it.. Conditions were nice in the morning and then...well, when it's snowingand blowing, it's tough - and that's when the tough get going, I guess,"he said.
Vreni Stockli of Switzerland won the women's mono-ski downhill in an adjusted2:04.49. U.S. skier Sarah Will (Vail, CO) - also battling a cold for morethan a week - crashed.
In stand-up category, Karolina Wisniewska of Canada won by more than twoseconds in an adjusted 1:54.79. Mary Riddell (Dove Creek, CO) - whoseright leg was amputated at birth - had the second-fastest second run tomove up to third place in 1:58.03 and Csilla Kristof (Las Vegas) finishedfifth with an adjusted time of 2:00.72. Multi-champion Sarah Billmeier(Yarmouth, ME) skied out on her second run.
Riddell, who won three unofficial World Cup "titles" last season, mutteredwith a smile, "Downhill's not my favorite event and when it's sunny Ihave a hard time being mentally prepared. I do better when it's cold andwindy and snowy. I was ready," she said, "but I just didn't ski fast enough."
In the men's stand-up race, Hans Burn of Switzerland had the winning timeof 1:46.24 with three-time Paralympic DH champ Mannino - who lost hisleft leg in a 1979 electrical mishap - second in 1:46.71 with Daniel Kosick(Binghamton, NY) ninth in the field of 33 men. "I'm glad to be on thepodium. This was a tough race - I like the long, one-run downhill insteadof these two-run races where you've got a couple of hours between run,"Mannino said, "but there's nothing you can do when Mother Nature givesyou this kind of weather. I want a podium in every race this week, andmaybe Wednesday will be my day for the top step first place."
In the blind skiers race, McMMullen was third (1:49.79) behind CanadianChris Williamson, whose adjusted winning time was 1:43.39. There wereno blind women racers.
Zirbisegger said Muffy Davis (Sun Valley, ID), ho won three unofficialWorld Cup super Gs last season, injured a shoulder in training Mondayand is expected to be sidelined for about three weeks. One-legged racerJennifer Kelchner (Cazenovia, NY), the '98 Paralympic DH gold medalist,jammed a thumb in her first run Tuesday and will miss the second sprintdownhill Wednesday, the coach said.