TELLURIDE, Colo. - March 3, 2007 - Though the pair may be categorized as "rookies" in their first ever Jeep® King of the Mountain campaign, Canada's Drew Neilson and Stratton Mountain, Vt.'s Lindsey Jacobellis looked anything but novice in masterfully capturing World Professional Champion honors today at Telluride, Colo.
The scene in Telluride was a far cry from Friday's action, where Aspen, Colo.'s Casey Puckett and France's Ophelie David were named 2007 World Professional Skiing Champions. Blue skies and sunshine replaced freezing temperatures and steady snowfall, creating a picture perfect setting for the field of world-class racers as well as the thousands of spectators lining the base of the Y-cross racecourse.
The athletes, having accrued points at previous races at Snowbird, Utah, and Beaver Creek, Colo., had much at stake in Telluride, including the most prestigious crown in professional snow sports and a share of the $450,000 cash payout, including an additional $20,000 in bonus cash from John Paul Mitchell Systems and the keys to a new 2007 Jeep Patriot. While Jacobellis had won the first two races of the season to gain a stronghold in the standings, the men's competition was completely up for grabs following a recent injury to series' points leader and 2006 Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott at the World Cup in Furano, Japan.
Neilson, an Olympian with seven World Cup titles under his belt, entered the day in third place. He made immediate progress in the standings by taking out second ranked Nate Holland of Squaw Valley, Calif., in the first round. Holland, a 2006 Olympian and recent Winter X Games gold medalist, won a tight first race but could not hold off the hard charging Neilson in the second heat, thus allowing the Canadian to advance. In the semi-finals, Neilson swept by open qualifier Jordi Font of Spain, an Olympian and Spanish National Champion, in straight races to reach the finals. On the other side of the bracket, Mario Fuchs of Austria, a 2006 Olympian and Austrian National Champion, started the day on fire with consecutive wins over open qualifier Markus Schairer of Austria. He then ran into defending World Professional Champion and 2006 Olympian Graham Watanabe of Park City, Utah, in the semi-finals. Watanabe, known for his speed and daring style, won the first race but Fuchs fought back in the second heat to capture the victory and reach the Championship Heat. Neilson reached another gear in the finals and swept by Fuchs in straight races to earn the title of World Professional Champion. In the Consolation Heat, Watanabe ousted Font to bring home third place honors.
"It feels great to bring home this title," said Neilson. "It has been an up and down season for me, but I began to find my rhythm in Japan with the World Cup win. I knew I had to come out strong today and make up some points in the standings to have a shot at winning. Thankfully, everything worked out."
Jacobellis, maintaining the form that helped her earn a recent World Championship as well as a silver medal in the 2006 Olympics and Winter X Games, began the day with a sweep of her U.S. snowboard teammate Marni Yamada of Seattle, Wash. In the semi-finals, she kept the pressure on by topping open qualifier Manuela Reigler of Austria in two straight races to reach the Championship Heat. In the other bracket, the top challenger to Jacobellis, France's Julie Pomagalski, was making a bid to upset the leader. Pomagalski, who has amassed two French National Championships, a World Championship and nine World Cup titles in her career, needed a strong comeback in the first round to get past Tanja Frieden of Switzerland, the snowboard-cross gold medalist from the 2006 Olympics. In the semi-finals, she faced the young and extremely talented Callan Chythlook-Sifsof of Girdwood, Alaska, the reigning U.S. Snowboardcross Champion and a member of the U.S. snowboard team. Pomagalski overwhelmed the yoounger competitor to earn a spot in the finals. Jacobellis took care of business with two dynamic runs against Pomagalski, resulting in her first World Professional Champion crown. Reigler held on to capture third place by topping Chythlook-Sifsof in the Consolation Heat.
"I'm really tired, but I feel great and am excited at the same time to have won the title," said Jacobellis. "Each race of the season every one of the competitors became stronger, and it feels really good to get this victory against this level of competition."
Based on their wins during the 2006-2007 season, Drew Neilson and Lindsey Jacobellis each earned the $10,000 John Paul Mitchell Systems bonus pool.
The athletes in Telluride competed on the Jeep King of the Mountain Series' innovative Y-cross racecourse, designed by Canada's Neilson and his skiing counterpart Tomas Kraus of the Czech Republic as part of the "athlete inspired" program launched by the series this season. For the first part of the Y-cross course, two competitors navigated the dual features section consisting of single and double rollers. Once through this section, the two courses converged into a single course, forming the approximate shape of a Y. The second section featured terrain characteristics of snowboard-cross racing, including banked turns, jumps, and tabletops.
The grand finale from Telluride will air on March 24 from 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. and March 25 from 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. on CBS Sports. Each race of the 2006-2007 Skiing & Snowboarding World Professional Championships airs on CBS Sports, with additional broadcast coverage on nationally syndicated television.
About the Jeep King of the Mountain Series
The Jeep King of the Mountain was established in 1993. Jeep is the title sponsor for the Jeep King of the Mountain Series. The Professional Skiing & Snowboarding World Championships are the sister competition to summertime's Jeep King of the Mountain World Professional Mountain Biking Championships. Other marketing partners for the Jeep King of the Mountain include Bern Helmets, Columbia Sportswear Company, Edge ActiveCare, Infinity Systems, John Paul Mitchell Systems, Michelin, Mopar, Rossignol, Ski Press Magazine, Sprint, Telluride Mountain Village and Telluride Ski Resort.