Fiala is sixth in race that marked the end of Puckett1s career |

Fiala is sixth in race that marked the end of Puckett1s career

Daily News Staff Report

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif., <Thomas Vonn of Newburgh, N.Y. raced to his first national title Tuesday, winning the men1s giant slalom in the final event of the 2002 Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championships.3I1m really psyched to finally get one under my belt, Vonn said. 3I1ve had some chances in the past and it1s nice to finally execute today and get it.Frisco1s Jakub Fiala was sixth.ESPN will broadcast coverage of the championships April 7.Vonn raced to a first-run lead and held on to finish with a combined winning time of 1 minute, 47.41 seconds. Tom Rothrock (Cashmere, Wash.) was second at 1:47.65, followed by Erik Schlopy (Park City, Utah) in third at 1:47.94. Steven Nyman (Park City, Utah), the 2002 Junior World Slalom Champion, was the top junior, finishing ninth overall at 1:49.74 after starting No. 49 in the first run.The day also marked the final chapter in a 13-year U.S. Ski Team career for Paul Casey Puckett (Aspen), who raced his final event and just bear-ly made it across the finish line, much to the delight of the crowd.3I actually wanted to wear a gorilla suit. That was Bode1s suggestion because I1ve been known to do gorilla GS turns in my day, said Puckett, who wore the Squaw Valley Children1s Ski School mascot costume on his final run. 3But I wasn1t able to make it to Reno to find a gorilla suit. So Tamara McKinney helped me out and found the KT Bear suit over at the children1s center. So I wore the bear. It was a good laugh and a lot of fun.3He1s a total character, and he will totally be missed, Vonn said of Puckett. 3We all love Casey and it was sweet to see him ski in the bear suit today. That fit his character nicely. But we are all going to miss him, absolutely.Puckett entered his final race as the defending U.S. giant slalom champion (after last year1s event was cancelled). He won that title in Jackson Hole two years ago along with the super G crown. In all, he retires as a five-time U.S. champion and leaves a program that has become one of the best in the world. A former junior world slalom champion himself, Puckett said the tools are there for Nyman and the rest of the young members of the team to become the best in the world.3(Nyman) is so lucky because he is coming into a program that is well-established and has great leaders, Puckett said. 3All these younger guys that are coming up are really lucky, and the only advice that I would give them is to enjoy it, kick butt and listen to the coaches.

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