American giant: Schlopy snares sixth place |

American giant: Schlopy snares sixth place

Andrew Harley
Preston Utley/ U.S. skier Erik Schlopy blows through a gate Saturday at the World Cup giant slalom on the Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek. Schlopy was the American highlight, finishing sixth with a time of 2 minutes, 30.83 seconds.

BEAVER CREEK – Ski racing requires a rare blend of fearlessness, stellar reactions and bionic will – the latter being vital to longevity. Erik Schlopy has gutted his way through years of life-shattering injuries and critical doubt to maintain a fierce agility and light-speed form on slopes that play host to the world’s fittest competitors.So, after all of the wisdom that must accompany such inspiring efforts, it was no surprise to hear determined words flow off the tongue of the U.S. Ski Team’s top man in Saturday’s men’s World Cup giant slalom on the Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek.Schlopy’s sixth-place finish represented a mark of respect for the U.S. Ski Team – which saw its limelit heroes, Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves, take nerve-wracking spills early in the first of two runs – and a reaffirmation for Schlopy’s self-confidence. However, Schlopy is no stranger to success, as he took third overall in GS in the 2000-01 World Cup.

“People say (regarding my injuries), ‘You could’ve packed it in.’ But to me, it wasn’t an option,” Schlopy said. “I’ve committed myself, as long as I’m physically and mentally capable, of reaching 2010 (Olympics), and reaching my peak then. I think my best years are still ahead of me.”It’s the way sport is going. Age is only a number next to your name. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way people think about sports and the age that people are and how long that they can perform because it’s much more than the general public realizes. I feel like I’m going to be the ambassador for that.”After Miller and Rahlves fell, Schlopy and the United States’ Dane Spencer inherited larger national burdens and an opportunity to shine.”I was more aggressive (on the second run). I almost paid for it, too. Up top, I almost ran out of the course twice. I made similar mistakes to guys who were losing a lot of time on the flat – apparently not as bad – but I stuck my nose in the bottom. I didn’t want to get beat on the bottom like I did on the first run. Definitely got a new head gear today,” said Schlopy, who sported a baseball cap that read, “,” after the race. “That’s what we call teamwork.”

Schlopy placed 13th among the field of 66 first-run competitors with a time of 1 minute, 14.58 seconds, and Spencer landed three spots back in 1:14.70.”It’s always hard. I’ve spent so many years of my life rehabbing my body in one way or another, and I’m not healing as fast. Once I’m healed up, I’m as young as any guy on the team, but the healing factor is definitely a little slower,” said Schlopy. “It was particularly frustrating because I knew I was skiing my fastest I’ve ever skied the day I hurt myself (America’s 2003 World Cup opener in Park City, Utah), and I never got to prove it.”There was a whole year before I could even go racing. And now, I’m just working my way back in, but I’m not going to take my time doing it. Bode and Daron are putting down incredible results, inspiring teammates, and I have a couple years left in me, but I gotta make it happen. It’s gotta be now.”U.S. Ski Team member James Cochran also made the final round of 30. Though Cochran’s time posted him in 31st place, Sweden’s Fredrik Nyberg was disqualified, awarding Cochran a spot in the final round.

Cochran’s second run went well until the final stretch, where he skied off course.Dynamic duoHaving earned four golds and a silver medal in the first six events of the World Cup season, Miller can afford to have a day with a less impressive result.

For Rahlves, the early elimination furthered his on-day, off-day pattern. Rahlves admitted to frustration, but he shrugged off the disappointment with apparent ease.”I’ve had two GS races, I crashed ’em both, and on my training runs I’ve been skiing super fast. I feel like my GS is doing really well. It’s not fun when you get all prepped and ready to go and only make it through a couple seconds of the course,” Rahlves said. “It’s good to crash every once in a while. It’s good to crash if you can get back up and not have anything major wrong as far (as) injuries.”A few gates past the start, Rahlves’ ski tips went through the dual poles of a gate, and he met the connecting blue flag with his head. He suffered no major injuries and will be heading to Europe today to prepare for next weekend’s competitions at Val d’Isere, France.”You take a beating once in a while, but you gotta keep getting back up, stay focused and keep going,” Rahlves said.

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