Nelson nips Russi to secure team win
VAIL – Forget fun.Fun left the Ford Cup slalom course Saturday afternoon at Golden Peak and took a chairlift up the mountain. Fun was somewhere in the VIP tent with a glass of cabernet.During the gold-medal match of the celebrity pro-am ski race, there was no fun – just pressure.After two long days of skiing competition, eight teams of five racers – six pool winners and two wild cards – were placed into a bracket.The two teams who would survive to race for gold were Team Sprint, captained by American skiing Legend Cindy Nelson, of Vail, and Team Vail Resorts, headed up by 2005 Legend of Honor, Bernhard Russi.Both captains had already picked up individual gold medals in the Legends competition at this year’s Ski Classic, but the opportunity to claim the coveted gold in the Ford Cup pushed those medal memories aside. The match came down to the Legends dual, too. The four amateur pairings before the final race produced a 2-2 tie, so Nelson and Russi would themselves decide who went home with another gold.
When the two slid into the starting gates at the top of the course, there was silence below. Nelson, with her slight handicap, led at the start.Russi closed in quick, though, and the two racers barreled toward the finish line almost neck and neck.Nelson’s ski tips just barely crossed the line first.”It worked out the way it should,” a smiling Nelson said after being congratulated by her teammates. “It came down to the pros. It was really exciting racing. As you do it for the course of the two days, the handicaps get so accurate that’s it’s really just who has the best run.”Russi said he was exhausted after four days of competing.”Maybe, if I would be a little bit less tired, I could have won,” he said. “I’m gone. I’m flat. I don’t know when I have skied more. It’s not only skiing. It’s the tension. We are just laughing and making jokes, but at the end it gets serious.”
The two best teams in the competition had some big names on their rosters. Nelson’s team featured tennis icon John McEnroe, who didn’t lose a single dual in his two days of racing. McEnroe had to leave early to catch a plane to Chile for a family vacation, so actor Corin Timbrook filled in for the final two duals. He won both.”You couldn’t have written a better script for it,” Timbrook said. “It was perfect. The last race – with Bernhard being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Cindy being a contributor here for the last 18 years – it was a great race. It came down to the last gate.”Vail Resorts CEO Adam Aron, a member of the team named after his company, won his dual in the gold-medal round against Tony Ittleson.”This year, I won silver,” Aron said. “Last year, it was bronze. Next year, we’re definitely going to get that gold medal.”Nelson couldn’t have been more proud of her team, especially first-time racers McEnroe and John McDonald.”John McDonald had some problems early, but now he’s won his last three matches,” Nelson said. “He’s hooked. I’m going to call (McEnroe) to tell him. For him, it’s his very first ski race, too. They were a good team. They were prompt and focused. … I just kept them unified.”McDonald said he was mentally exhausted, too.”I don’t know how many butterflies I had to fight today,” he said. “We had such a great team, and such great support with Cindy Nelson. It was just amazing. It’s a wonderful feeling to win. I had a really great time. It’s my first time, but it won’t be my last.”
Russi beat Picabo Street to take his team past her Team Countrywide and into the gold medal round.”I was surprised that I could beat her,” Russi said. “I think I had a better ski. I think I had the faster ski.” Street, ever the consummate competitor, was peeved after losing again in the bronze medal dual to finish fourth. When asked about her loss to Russi, the two-time Winter Olympic medalist questioned the Swiss downhiller’s handicapped head start.”I can’t believe that he got to start before me,” she said. “What kind of sandbagging did you do to pull that off? I don’t know. Whatever. I’m just a very competitive person and I don’t like to lose and I don’t care who it is.”
She also said her team may have made it into the medal round if it would have been a little more focused. “I was proud of my team this morning,” she said. “They got in a little party mode at lunch. Whether they want to believe it or not, that made a difference. They made stupid mistakes at the bottom of the course. But, they’re partying, and they’re the underwriters of the event, so what do you say? Nothing, you know? I went to them and said, ‘C’mon boys, you’re cut off. Let’s go race this afternoon.’ Then they had three or four beers later each. I wouldn’t be able to see the gates with four beers in me right now. Whatever. To each their own. I know everyone had a really great time, and it’s all for a really great cause. And, I can’t help it if I’m competitive.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado