Kaiser Klammer is golden at Vail Ski Classic | VailDaily.com

Kaiser Klammer is golden at Vail Ski Classic

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
SPO Ski Classic Sat 02 TS 03-29-08

VAIL, Colorado ” Franz Klammer’s fate was in his own hands.

Well, his hands and the giant paws of Franz Weber.

At Saturday’s Ski Classic Ford Cup finals at Vail’s Golden Peak, Klammer, the 2008 Legend of Honor, pushed his team into the finals with a series-clinching win against Eric Archer. In the finals, Klammer found himself in the exact same situation ” the best-of-five series was tied at two, and he was up against another legend, Germany’s Michaela Gerg.

In the start house, Klammer, the famous Austrian downhill skier, got some tips and a big push from Weber, the former Austrian speed-skiing champion.

After a solid start, Klammer moved through the giant slalom course and crossed the line just ahead of Gerg to give his team the win.

“It feels great,” Klammer said. “Having such a great team and having my daughter on the team ” it was a very special experience. I skied quite well and got it going.”

As for the boost?

“That’s what I need,” Klammer said. “I’m weak in the upper body.”

Gerg, who won the downhill Thursday, was faced with a tough dilemma ” if she beat Klammer, she would have spoiled the storybook ending. But if she threw the race, her team would have cried foul.

“At the start, I thought, ‘Should I win or not?'” Gerg said. “I went as hard as I could, honestly.”

And Gerg wasn’t too upset about Klammer’s super-quick start.

“He had the push from Franz Weber,” she said. “I know what it’s like because he pushed me into the finals.”

Although Weber had his own team, he is now an honorary member of Klammer’s squad.

“It was cool having Franz Weber up there,” said Carolyn Stimpson, one of Klammer’s teammates. “He was pushing us off. Literally the first time you touched down was at the first gate because he was hucking you so far.”

As much pressure as there was on Klammer, his teammates had some start-house jitters.

“My wife, Carolyn, and I had butterflies up there,” John Stimpson said. “This is a fun race, but I’m thinking, ‘Oh, God I better do this.'”

While the Stimpsons have been racing all winter in their league at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Mass., Klammer has only been freeskiing. And his daughter, Sophie, had never been through gates prior to the Ski Classic. Both Sophie’s father and Weber gave her a few tips.

“My dad said, ‘Nice and easy now,’ and Weber said, ‘No, no. Not easy. She has to ski aggressively.’ They were joking around,” Sophie Klammer said.

In the consolation finals, former U.S. Ski Team Men’s Head Coach Phil McNichol clinched the win for his team in the second-to-last heat.

“This event is more about participating and sharing what we have in skiing, whether you are a celebrity ski coach or a legend World Cup winner,” he said. “You look at the faces of the folks on the team, they are giving their money and time, and to get them on the podium, it’s really fun.”

McNichol, who arguably had one of the most successful tenures as the men’s U.S. coach, enjoyed coming to Vail for the Ski Classic.

“For me to have made the decision I had and to come here and for everyone to recognize me and meet all the people I know in the industry is nice and makes me feel good,” he said. “If they are in the ski world, they are proud of the American team and I draw a lot of energy from that.”

Even with the disparate abilities of skiers in the Ford Cup, most races were highly competitive. Racers were assigned handicaps based on their qualifying times Thursday.

“The handicap system works well,” John Stimpson said. “Every race was hundreds or thousands of a second and it really made it fun because you never knew, even if you had to catch a guy with a four-second advantage.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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