‘Clarky’ looks to the top step in 2003-04 | VailDaily.com

‘Clarky’ looks to the top step in 2003-04

Kirsten Clark in a g.s. training course.

Kirsten Clark saw plenty of podiums last year, clocking four top-three finishes in the downhill including a silver-medal finish at Worlds in St. Moritz, Switzerland, to finish seventh in the World Cup overall standings.

This year, though, the soft spoken 5-foot-6 Mainer, whom teammates affectionately refer to as “Clarky” is hoping to make even more noise on the World Cup circuit, not so she can just reach the podium as often, but so that she can be the one with the best view from the top.

“I didn’t have any victories last year, so I’m looking to have some victories this year,” said Clark. “I visited the podium quite a few times last year, but never on that top step, so I’m looking for that this year.”

Clark, in her ninth year on the team, second only to 10-year veteran Kristina Koznick, believes that this year’s U.S. women’s team is as strong as it has ever been and that the results from the season-opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 26 point to good signs for the upcoming season. Vail’s Sarah Schleper had the best U.S. finish ever at Soelden, finishing seventh, and Clark and Koznick both had top-30 finishes, in 23rd and 28th place respectively.

“These are the strongest results we’ve ever had in Soelden.” said Clark. “With Sarah finishing seventh, it’s great for the confidence and the momentum of this team. For myself, who’s trained with her, and also the other girls who are on the tech team training with her, we have someone to gauge against now, because we know she’s skiing fast and she’s capable of being right in there.”

Clark admits that there was a learning curve for the more inexperienced members of the team, trying to fill the void left in the wake two-time Olympic medalist Picabo Street’s retirement after the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. But, now, she believes the team is ready to make good on it’s goal of being the best in the world in 2006 by having a breakout year in 2003-04.

And, she knows that if the team is to have a big year, she has to have another big year too.

“Our plan is to be bigger, faster, stronger,” said Clark. “We have the goal of being the best in the world in 2006 and I definitely think we’re right on track. There was a time there on the tech team where the older athletes retired, and so we had quite a few younger athletes who didn’t quite have the experience, and we didn’t have the depth. Now, we have more of that depth, and we’re able to feed off one another, and push each other in training.”

It was a busy offseason for Clark, who aside from training in South America and Austria during the summer months, managed also to find time to exchange wedding vows with Andreas Rickenbach, a former World Cup racer and U.S. coach. She was able to relax back in her native Maine for a bit with her new husband, doing some hiking and some water skiing, as well as riding horses and staying busy with her two black labs Bodie and Cutter.

Summer vacation is a distant memory now, though, with the World Cup season back in full swing, and the chance to improve on her third-place finish last year in the overall World Cup downhill standings with the first downhill looming in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Dec. 5.

For “Clarky” and the U.S. team, it’s time to get to that top step.

“With my results last year, just being as consistent as I was, and then also with other athletes that were on the podium, I think we’re all capable of winning races on any given day,” said Clark. “We have the experience now, and we have the confidence going into the season.”

Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via npeterson@vaildaily.com.

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