Lewin Takes Telluride Victory, Rahlves Second at Jeep King of the Mountain

Lewin Takes Telluride Victory, Rahlves Second at Jeep King of the Mountain

The Jeep King of the Mountain skier cross kicked off today under clear skies and extremely cold temperatures as Sweden’s Lars Lewin battled through his heats to take the top spot on the podium. Lewin held off legendary American speedster Daron Rahlves for the victory, with Czech Republic athlete Tomas Kraus in third followed by Enak Gavaggio taking the last spot in the final heat. Rounding out the top eight were Casey Puckett (USA), Errol Kerr (USA), Chris Del Bosco (CDN), and Fabre Olivier (FRA).

As expected, all eyes were on Rahlves, who was making his return to world-class racing after retiring from the US Ski Team last season. One of the most successful American ski racers in history, Rahlves’ return has newly minted US National Team Skier Cross coach Tyler Shepherd drooling. “Obviously if Rahlves chooses to compete I’d have to seriously consider naming to the national team,” says Shepherd, who expects to announce the USA national team line-up in the spring. “But, as you know, he’s retired from international competition and what he does is his own thing. He may be too busy with his family to commit to competing at that level.”

Certainly Rahlves will have to ponder his future in skier cross after an impressive run to the podium today, which resulted in a silver medal. But while the American crowd may have been rooting for the storied American hero, nothing was going to stop Swedish phenomenon Lars Lewin.

Lewin has been a fixture in skier cross for a few years now, but his golden moment seemed always out of reach, as he had never won an event until today. There can be no doubt that his victory is a breakthrough moment, and with it, new opportunities will start to present themselves to this soft-spoken athlete who has waited so long for the taste of champagne.

For the women, the usual suspects came out strong and hard. French skier cross dominator Ophelie David continued her run of podium finishes, taking gold ahead of Austria’s Karin Huttary. Swedish athlete Magdalen Jonsson finished in third, with American Anik Demers Wild taking up the 4th spot. Rounding out the top eight were Jenny Owens (AUS), Brett Buckles (USA), Gilliar McFetridge (CAN) and Ashleigh McIvor (CAN).

David’s victory was slightly anticlimactic. While Huttary was able to push the Frenchwomen at the start, David pulled away, and, like she’s done for most of her career, wrapped up the win easily. Telluride is only the latest feather in her cap, which includes podium finishes in every event (but one) that she entered in 2005. Throw in victories at the 2006 French Championships, FIS World Cup stops in the Czech Republic and Spain, David is enroute to becoming the most successful women athlete in the discipline, a French jauggernaught which is heading towards the 2010 Olympics with a single minded focus that is scary to watch. One can only wonder how the competition intends to stop her.

Two of the more intriguing side notes to today’s event was the bombing out of both Shaun Palmer and Resi Stiegler. For years, Palmer has been a threat to win any kind of event – from snowboard halfpipe to mountain bike downhill races – he enters. Palmer was teamed up against Casey Puckett, Austrian Klaus Waldner and Swedish competitor Eric Illjans in his first-round heat, but — surprisingly — failed to advance.

For Stiegler, who was taking a weekend hiatus from racing on the World Cup with the US National Team, a case of the jitters seemed to take her out of the game from the start. “I just don’t want to get injured,” Stiegler was heard saying after the race. “They’ll kick me off the US team if I get injured.” Obviously, the bump and grind nature of skier cross played tricks on Stiegler’s mental game in this race, as today’s Jeep King of the Mountain course proved to be one of the safest in the history of the sport. It remains to be seen if Stiegler can handle the mental intensity of this discipline, as different as it is from traditional ski racing.

Four Keys To Victory

Wax – With temperatures plummeting into the negative digits last night, equipment preparation proved essential to combat cold, slow snow.

The Start – Getting the hole shot out of the gate allowed the leaders to put pressure on the competition. And, with the heats running less than a minute, there wasn’t much room to pass or make up time.

Focus on the line: Icy curves punished mental lapses.

Don’t panic in the early heats – With one of the most talented fields assembled, athletes didn’t need to win their early heats, they just needed to advance.

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