Stephens wins for third year in a row
VAIL – The finish corral at the base of Golden Peak was a dangerous place Thursday.Fast times were the most important thing to the racers flying down the downhill course at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships, which meant skiers pushed it to the limit all the way through the finish line.Whether a racer was able to hold an edge and stop after crossing the line was a crapshoot. Considering the fresh snow from the night before, the surface on the pitch was decent for speed skiing.The snow in the finish line, however, was decent for pond skimming practice. “The finish line is a little dangerous,” said three-year U.S. Disabled Ski Team veteran Nick Catanzarite, who finished third in the men’s mono-skier category. “It’s a little softer than I’d like on course, a little slower, but certainly very runnable. It’s just the finish area that’s bad.” A number of Catanzarite’s peers fell prey to the soft, slushy snow awaiting them after their runs and crashed hard into the padded barrier enclosing the finish area.
One skier even hit the barriers so hard that he broke through the bottom and nearly took out a pack of onlookers.Judging by the demeanor of everyone who got up from a good crash, it was apparent that a few bumps and bruises were worth every hundredth of a second.Five national downhilll champions were crowned after all the racing – and crashing – wrapped up.In the men’s mono-skier category, 13-year U.S. Disabled Alpine Team veteran Chris Devlin-Young won with his two-run combined factor time of 1 minute, 34.33 seconds. Due to the short length of the course, racers ran two runs to make the event an official downhill.Devlin-Young was joined on the winner’s stand by second-place finisher Roger Lee, a member of the Winter Park Disabled Ski Team for the last five years, and Catanzarite, who won the men’s mono-ski downhill in 2001.Lee’s combined time, including his disability factor, was 1:35.07. Catanzarite finished in 1:36.03.
“I’m very pleased,” said Lee, 42. “I’m not on the U.S. Team yet, but I think I made it for next year. I had a great second run. I rode up the chair with one of the U.S. Team coaches. We talked about my racing line and I kind of tightened up my line a little bit coming down the pitch and through the flats there. I got a little more aerodynamic.”Catanzarite, a former U.S. Alpine Team hopeful who broke his back in a ski racing accident when he was 17-year-old junior, was also pleased with his result.”I’m happy with it,” he said. “Anytime I go out and ski well, and guys beat me, I’m fine with that. I skied well and I’ll take a third place.”In the women’s mono-skier category, World Cup overall winner Laurie Stephens, 21, won the downhill gold medal at the U.S. Championships for the third straight year.”It’s exciting,” Stephens said. “I think it’s cool that I’m being that consistent.”Stephens also won individual discipline titles this year in super-G, giant slalom and slalom to close out a dream season. There was no downhill overall title handed out because there were not enough races.”I won all the titles they gave out,” Stephens said, smiling.
In the men’s standup category, a retired legend returned to the U.S. Championships to reclaim his downhill crown.James Lagerstrom, winner of the silver medal at the 2002 Winter Paralympics in Salt Lake City, won the men’s race with his two-run combined time of 1:43.80. He was back in Vail Thursday hoping to earn back his spot on the U.S. Disabled Team and ski in the Paralympics next winter in Torino, Italy. “I just love ski racing,” said Lagerstrom, who had his left leg amputated below the knee as a boy. “I love the competition. I just wanted to win today.”
Lagerstrom also competed in the Winter Paralympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.In the standup category for the women, five-year U.S. Disabled Team veteran Alison Jones won with her time of 1:50.74.”I put two good runs together,” Jones said. “Today was better than the last couple of days. I had good spots in training, but today everything finally came together. During practice, I’m looking where I want to be, and when I’m racing, it’s like, ‘I gotta be there.’ Somehow, I get there. Usually my foot manages to get where it needs to be.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado