Puckett, Kostner win Legends race
VAIL, Colorado – They’re retirees. They were seeing old friends and reliving glory days. They were just having fun – for a good cause.
But, still, once a competitor, always a competitor.
For the racers at the Legends Giant Slalom at the American Ski Classic, there was plenty of adrenaline at the start gate.
“We get to the start, and we’re all up there joking around with each other, but once you get in the gate, those butterflies come right back just like you normally would feel in a race,” said Pam Fletcher, who came in second in the women’s race. “And that’s the fun part. That’s the real adrenaline rush.”
On the men’s side, fresh-faced 37-year-old “rookie” Casey Puckett landed on the top of the
podium. Puckett is a former World Cup alpine skier who has, in recent years, competed in
Under the handicapping system, Puckett started eight-tenths of a second behind Steve Mahre but stormed to victory, making up a big deficit in the last few gates.
Puckett, who is coming off competing in the Vancouver Olympics and is mulling skicross retirement, won by three-hundredths of a second on the Golden Peak course on Vail Mountain. Mahre and Puckett nearly collided just after they crossed the finish line.
Puckett said he was able to muster enough strength for some good turns at the end of the course, where there were some tight gates.
“I’m strong from my training and the stuff I’ve been doing,” Puckett said. “I have an advantage over these guys because I’ve been training so hard. I had the strength to pull off some good turns.”
Mahre, who sported a vintage 1984 speed suit, was full of competitive fire.
“When you get in the gate, you don’t want to lose,” Mahre said. “None of us do. But it’s all for fun. And you have the opportunity to meet the guys who skied before us and then the guys who were great after us. Because you didn’t know them. You meet them here. You didn’t meet them on the hill.”
Mahre won nine times on the World Cup circuit and captured a silver medal in the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Isolde Kostner, of Italy, won the women’s race, coming from behind to beat Fletcher, who had a three-tenths-of-a-second head start under the handicapping system. Kostner was a speed specialist who won two bronze medals in the 1994 Olympics, won a silver in the 2002 games and captured the World Cup downhill titles in 2001 and 2002.
“I just had a lot of fun,” Kostner said. “I never ski the gates. Only here in Vail. And I love this race. I have so much fun. For me, that’s just the most important thing.”
Some big names competed but didn’t make it to the final rounds. Daron Rahlves, the most decorated American downhill and super-G racer in history, was eliminated in the round of 16.
“I didn’t realize it would be this serious,” said Rahlves, who competed in the Vancouver Olympics in skicross. “All these guys take all their spandex out of the closets.”
Rahlves had rented some race skis from a local shop that morning and was struggling with them on the Golden Peak course, he said. But he said it was fun to be back in the Vail Valley, where, in 2003 and 2005, he won the Beaver Creek World Cup downhill on the considerably steeper and icier Birds of Prey course.
“It would be more fun if this were on Birds of Prey,” Rahlves joked.
Franz Klammer, the Austrian who dominated the downhill in the late ’70s and won the Legends race last year, failed to qualify for the final 16.
Puckett said he hasn’t decided yet if he will return to skicross racing next year. Will the thrill of victory at the American Ski Classic Legends race spur him to return?
“Or to just keep doing more fun races,” he said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.