Make some room for one more trophy
VAIL – It’s a good thing the medalists in Thursday’s American Ski Classic downhill didn’t bring up all their career hardware with them to the podium. It would have collapsed.Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who won his second race on Vail’s Golden Peak in as many days, already had eight Olympic and 12 World Championships medals, not to mention 21 World Cup wins, eight discipline titles and an overall title, too. Aamodt’s long-time teammate Lasse Kjus, who was second Thursday, already had 16 Olympic and World Championships medals, along with 18 World Cup wins, two overall titles and four discipline titles.And Phil Mahre, who was second in Wednesday’s giant slalom, took third Thursday, adding to his collection of medals that include two Olympic medals, a World Championships medal, 27 World Cup wins, three World Cup overall titles and seven World Cup discipline titles.Simply put, the winners had been there before.
But as Mahre retired years before the two Norwegian’s started their pro careers, it was the first time all three skiers had been on the podium together.”I never thought I’d be on the podium with Phil Mahre – it’s a very special feeling,” Kjus said.Mahre was equally humbled with the combination.”Those are two of the best guys as far as World Cup and Olympic medals go,” the long time Ski Classic veteran Mahre said of the Ski Classic rookies, Kjus and Aamodt. “You always know if you keep coming to these types of events, you’ll catch up with the legends of the sport.”Aamodt, who beat Mahre in Wednesday’s head-to-head giant slalom finals, had some regrets about cleaning up in the legends field only two months after calling it a pro career.”I just retired, so I’m a little embarrassed to be here in the first place,” Aamodt said. “We were just having fun and enjoying it.”
GrahamstandThe streak begins anew for Canadian Laurie Graham. After five consecutive downhill wins from 2000-2005, Graham had an off year in 2006. This year, Graham was determined to win.”Last year I wasn’t in great shape and didn’t have fun because I wasn’t pushing it, so it was great to come back this year,” said Graham, who with Thursday’s win, extended her record Ski Classic gold collection to a 10. Graham won downhills in 1997, 1994 and 1993; she also won a combined in 2001.”I worked out a little more at the gym, and came in a little more focused, and it paid off,” Graham said.Germany’s Michaela Gerg-Leitner was second, followed by Canadian Karen Percy-Lowe.For many of the racers, Thursday wasn’t just a chance for a medal – it was a rare opportunity to race a downhill.”That’s why it’s so much fun to come,” Graham said.
“It’s a great chance to come and do a downhill,” said Franz Klammer, who dominated the discipline from 1974-1977, winning 19 of 33 World Cup races. Most racers had two training runs in the morning, although Klammer took a few more, shadowing some of the other racers on their runs.The mood changes a bit as the day goes on, however.”In the morning, we have a lot of fun because we are meeting each other, but as soon as you are in the startit’s like being on the World Cup again,” Gerg-Leitner said.Spray it
While on the podium for his first win (both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s winners were awarded after the downhill Thursday), Aamodt sprayed some Champagne into the crowd, and then gave Mahre a splash in the face. The second time around, Aamodt unsuccessfully chased Kjus, who went around the side and jumped off the stage.”We’ve been competing all our lives,” Aamodt said.And it certainly won’t stop now. The two Norwegians each recently bought a Melgus 24 sailboat, and plan to race this summer.”The competition goes on – it never stops,” Aamodt said. On the water, Kjus has a big advantage over Aamodt for now.”He doesn’t know anything about sailing,” Kjus said of Aamodt. “I have to teach him.”
All aboardAfter the individual awards, the entire group of legends assembled on stage. After coming down, Mahre, with one of his awards in hand, took some time to reflect.”It’s great to come back and see not only the new, most recent champions, but the old-timers that go way back,” he said. “There’s so much history in the sport of skiing that most people aren’t aware of.”It’s kind of funny because I never really thought of what I accomplished much. You are part of the history, and it’s kind of mind boggling when all is said and done. Even today, I don’t think about it in that respect … and it’s kind of something you take for granted sometimes and you really shouldn’t.”The Ford Cup starts today and continues Saturday.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.