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Ski Classic: The most golden of peaks

Ian CroppVail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily Rosi Mittermaier, right, races Holly Flanders down the giant slalom course to lead team Vail Valley Foundation to gold in the 2006 Ford Cup at last year's American Ski Classic Saturday at Golden Peak.
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VAIL – Winning a World Cup race or an Olympic medal moves a skier from the rank and file into to a special category.And winning more of those than your fellow countrymen, or anyone else in the world will put you smack in the middle of this year’s American Ski Classic lineup.Phil Mahre’s record 27 career World Cup wins by an American usually earns him the title of most decorated skier on the slopes. Add two Olympic medals, two World Championship medals and three overall World Cup titles, and he’s unquestionably of this week’s legend and celebrity ski event, right?Well that is unless you toss Lasse Kjus into the mix. Kjus made skiing history at the 1999 World Championships in Vail, when he became the first to earn a medal in all five disciplines (two gold’s and three silvers). Later that season, Kjus went on to win his second overall World Cup title. So, with five Olympic medals, and 16 combined Olympic and World Championships medals, not to mention 18 World Cup wins, Kjus could take the title of most decorated skier. Or a fellow Norwegian could, too.Kjetil Andre Aamodt doesn’t quite have Mahre’s 27 World Cup wins – he falls six short – but he’s got plenty of hardware from two other big events. Aamodt is the only alpine skier to win eight Olympic medals, with gold’s all the way from 1992 to 2006, and the only to amass four gold’s. The golden boy turned man turned retiree has the distinction of being the oldest and youngest alpine skier to stand on the top of an Olympic podium. And with 12 World Championship medals, Aamodt has a combined 20 from the Olympics and world champs – a record that could very well stand until the next ice age. Back to those World Cup wins – he’s one of five skiers to have won a race in each discipline.A year or threeThe Ski Classic kicks off at Vail’s Golden Peak tonight with a giant slalom race. After the seeding and qualifying, which starts at 3:30 p.m., the top racers will hit the slope again at 6:45 p.m. for the finals. There won’t be a repeat of last year’s winners, as neither Norway’s Stein Halsnes nor Germany’s Marina Kiehl are here. But it’s nearly assured that the winners will have donned some precious metal before. Between the 48 racers in this year’s Ski Classic, there are almost enough World Cup wins (207) to fill almost three men’s and women’s seasons’, enough Olympic medals (35) for close to four Olympic Games and enough World Championship medals (50) for five years. For the giant slalom and Thursday’s downhill, the racers will be handicapped based on their age, year of retirement and a few other factors. So Norway’s Stein Eriksen, who won Olympic medals 55 years ago, will have a fair chance when he goes head-to-head with Aamodt, who retired earlier this season.

When it comes to the men’s downhill, Franz Klammer is the speed demon. The Austrian Klammer has 26 World Cup wins, 25 of them in downhill. Klammer won nine downhills in a row, and 19 of 33 from 1974 to 1977, and also has five discipline crowns. Last year, Klammer won the Ski Classic, jumping from second to first in his final run, thanks to a shot of Jagermeister.”A little shot of Jager never hurts. My old bones need it, obviously,” Klammer said after the win.Toril Forland of Norway will look to reclaim her downhill title for the women.On Friday and Saturday, the legends will try and help their teams grab the Ford Cup.Back on trackMahre, who is back this year along with brother Steve, may be checking his splits a little closer than normal. The 49-year-old, who retired in 1984, stared a comeback last spring, and hopes to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Nationals. Along the way, Mahre has six top-10 finishes, including a win in giant slalom and a second in slalom.Germany’s Christian Neureuther or Rosi Mittermaier could add to the family medal count this season in the Vail Valley. During the Birds of Prey slalom race in Beaver Creek, Felix Neureuther, who is the son of Christian and Rosi, took bronze.Picabo Street, Cindy Nelson, Billy Kidd, Barbara Ferries, Holly Flander and Pam Fletcher round out the American skiers.===============

What-American Ski ClassicWhen: Today through SaturdayWhere: Vail’s Golden PeakWho: Ski Legends, including:Kjetil Andre AamodtLasse KjusPhil MahreSteve MahreFranz KlammerPicabo Street

Rosi MittermaierCindy NelsonCelebrities, including:Bill ElliottGiancarlo EspositoMerril HogeRobert Kennedy, Jr.Jim McMahonMike Richter===============Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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