Big Mountain, Mont. March 24, 2001 (USSA)--Erik Schlopy (Park City UT) -- using apair of super G skis he borrowed from Casey Puckett (Aspen, CO) -- cameout of No. 31 start Saturday to deadlock Puckett for the win in theclosest race in U.S. championships history. Defending champion DaronRahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) was third just .01 back.
ESPN will broadcast coverage of Day Two at the Chevy Truck U.S. AlpineChampionships April 7 at 4 p.m. EST.
In bright sunshine and 40-degree weather, Puckett and Schlopy tied forthe gold medal in 1:43.00. Rahlves, who had won the downhill Friday atBig Mountain, took the bronze medal in 1:43.01. Completing the top five,but more than another full second back, were Marco Sullivan (Tahoe City,CA) fourth and Thomas Vonn (Newburgh NY) fifth.
Jake Fiala (Frisco, CO), the 1999 U.S. super G champion, was the"provisional" winner for about 20 minutes when he got a provisionalsecond run because of a gate, which temporarily had no panel. He wentback to the start and -- racing 51st in softening snow conditions --posted the fastest time (1:42.82); however when the jury met a shorttime later, he was disqualified for missing the ate in his first run.
Meanwhile, Schlopy and Puckett, classmates at Vermont's Burke MountainAcademy before coming to the U.S. Ski Team, continued an interestingdance. The victory was the fourth U.S. crown for each.
Pals since they were 12
"Casey and I go back all the way to when we were 12 years old, battlingit out as junior racers," Schlopy explained, "and then in 1992 we werebattling it out at the nationals where I was first and he was second insuper G. And then eight years later i.e., last season at Jackson Hole,Wyo. he beats me in the GS and I come second, and then today, we'remeeting in the middle.
"This might be the trade-off - I get to tie him in super G and he takesthe slalom," Schlopy laughed.
He arrived Thursday night in this corner of northwestern Montana, about60 miles from the Canadian border and was undecided about whether torace super G. However, after inspecting the course Friday, he decided togo. The only problem was he had no super G skis -- until Puckett loanedhim a pair. "See? Right here - PCP Paul Casey Puckett," Schlopy said,pointing to the initials on his borrowed Atomics.
Schlopy, who hasn't raced SG since finishing eighth at the Chevy TruckU.S. championships a year ago, laughed again as he said, "I considermyself a super G guy....It's just a matter of getting used to the speedagain. This year the slalom and GS have gone really well but in realityI think my super G could be as good or better than any other event."
For his part, Puckett was pleased he'd been able to re-focus midwaythrough his run and then nail the bottom of the course to pull pastRahlves by a hundredth of a second.
"This is a really good super G hill, World Cup calibre," Puckett said.Coach Chris Brigham "set some big turns in there, so it tested yourtechnical ability and it had some fast spots in there. It was definitelya test for the endurance also, the stamina.
Mid-race correction: Attack the bottom
"There was a little more flow today that in the downhill but the hillmakes it difficult to find any flow," he said. "I struggled a little bitthrough the middle and I knew I was losing it when I started skiingkinda not so good. So then I decided to just bomb the bottom. I said ifI was going to do anything, I'd better push it down here."
He could feel himself losing time, he said, and he tightened his focus."You can feel it slipping away and then if you're able to say, 'Y'knowwhat? You're not doing it right now'....Things start moving so fast thatI get off my focus and I don't ski as well, and then I say to myself,'Okay, pull yourself together and go!'..."
Puckett said he knew he had to ski the final turns almost flawlessly,so he made sure to set-up as he came to the bottom. "With one gate togo, it's all a tuck and I got into my wind tunnel tuck and got as tighttas possible, so that could've helped me to that hundredth," he said.
The snow conditions varied from hard at the top to soft and slushy atthe bottom, even for early racers "and it's getting softer by theminute." Puckett raced seventh in the field of 68.
Rahlves, who won the super G title at the World Championships inJanuary, looked at the scoreboard and shook his head. He wasn't asbummed about the hair-thin margin of difference as the lackluster way heraced. He didn't have the fire he needed, Rahlves said,
"That the .01 doesn't hurt as much as the way I skied it," he said."I deserved to get beat on that run. I was all over the place."
The men have an off day Sunday before resuming Monday with giantslalom.