Fiala flies to win under the lights
VAIL – Jake Fiala kept spectator’s eyes glued to the giant slalom race course Wednesday night at Golden Peak despite of some premature fireworks at the 23rd American Ski Classic.Cindy Nelson and Pam Fletcher transported race fans back to the 1980s.Both finals in this year’s Legends GS proved themselves worthy of the spotlight treatment.In the men’s title bout, Fiala stole gold from Austria’s Hias Leitner with a surge right before the finish line.The recently retired U.S. Ski Team speed specialist and former Battle Mountain student managed to reel in his opponent, most known for his silver medal in slalom at the 1960 Winter Olympics, after giving up a more-than five-second headstart.”This was fun,” Fiala said afterward. “I love head-to-head. I went to the Gravity Games a few weeks ago (for skiercross) and did well there. Six people in a race is awesome, but this thing was fun, too. Seeing the guy in front of you is just a blast.”In the women’s final, Fletcher nearly overcame a tiny headstart from Nelson, but a bobble midway through her run cost her the gold. “I kind of caught her, then I kind of blew it,” Fletcher said. It was obvious afterward that who got what medal wasn’t all that important to the two friends and former U.S. Ski Team teammates. What was significant was the chance to get the competitive juices flowing again.Racing under the lights made the moment even sweeter.”We were funny,” said Fletcher, who was an Olympian in 1988. “We were at the start hoping that maybe we’d be in the finals together. Earlier today, we thought it would kind of be fun if it happened. I don’t think we’ve ever been in the finals before.”Added Nelson, “We’ve competed together a long time against each other in World Cup. She won a World Cup race here in ’86. It was the American Ski Classic World Cup downhill. It was the last time we did a women’s World Cup downhill here in conjunction with the Ski Classic.”Nelson adds her Ski Classic gold to the bronze medal she won at the 1976 Olympic downhill in Innsbruck, Austria, and the silver she won in downhill at the 1982 World Championships.In the consolation finals, Felix Belczyk beat out fellow Canadian Paul Carson for bronze. Germany’s Marina Kiehl exploited a bobble by Norwegian legend Toril Forland to finish third.
Frigid temperatures made for a fast course Wednesday night. Nelson said she was worried beforehand about racing under the lights but said visibility was excellent.”I don’t think I have (ever raced at night), and if I have, it was so long ago that I don’t remember,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be well enough for us to see. I thought it might be a little dangerous, but I saw perfectly fine.”Fiala said he was impressed with the handicapping done by race officials. Of the 16 male racers and 16 females who made it into the head-to-head brackets, there wasn’t one race that wasn’t somewhat close, he said.”They did a good job today,” he said. “It seemed to be perfect. Nobody beat each other by very much all day.”Big names who lost head-to-heads and didn’t make it into the finals included last year’s winner Chad Fleischer, Austrian skiing god Franz Klammer and U.S. skiing legends Steve and Phil Mahre.Barbara Ferries Henderson, who won last year’s GS final, also didn’t make it to the final four. Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado