Swedes top podium in Legends GS | VailDaily.com

Swedes top podium in Legends GS

John LaConte
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL – While most sports fans in the U.S. are wondering how their NCAA picks are going to shape up, for the spectators on Golden Peak Thursday there was only one kind of bracket to worry about: The bracket round of the Volvo Legends giant slalom at the 2012 Korbel American Ski Classic.

And for the ski fans there, the action was just as exciting.

The men’s and women’s bracket rounds were comprised of the top eight from two rounds of seeding, and with only eight advancing, there was no sandbagging to be had – competition was tough to determine who advanced. Racers were given a handicap based on a combination of age and time, which resulted in some skiers getting a head start in the finals. Vail native Sarah Schleper led the field for both the men and women for much of the seeding rounds, eventually getting topped by Casey Pucket by a tenth of a second in the last round of seeding for men. Schleper went on to face Karen Stemmle in the finals, with Stemmle’s gates opening nearly 2.5 seconds before Schleper’s.

The “horse gates,” or automatically-opening gates where skiers wait for a green light in a similar fashion as a driver at a traffic light, proved tricky for Schleper.

“I made a huge mistake, I barged the gate,” she said. “I think I lost maybe a second.”

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She still made it interesting, nearly making up the deficit by the finish.

“I think if I would have had one more gate I could have caught her,” she said after the race.

Schleper grew with the American Ski Classic in her back yard, so being invited as a Legend is an absolute thrill, she says.

“I love being here,” she said, “to be here with such great racers from my childhood.”

Schleper says she spent Wednesday night quizzing her father, longtime local Buzz Schleper, on all the Legends that were going to be here this year.

“He knew every one of them,” she said. “In our family we love the sport, and we love the history of it.”

Schleper is among an elite class of “rookie legends,” — this year’s freshman class of newly invited ski legends. She joins Lichtenstein’s Marco Buechel — whom you may remember from his GS run at the ’99 World Championships in Beaver Creek, where he won the silver medal — and Edwards resident, Swedish skier, golfer and all-around good guy Patrik Jaerbyn, who is best known for being the oldest skier ever to reach a World Cup podium with his bronze finish in the super-G in 2007. He was 38.

For Jaerbyn, last night’s race was something he wanted to do well in, but also walk away from.

“I don’t want to say you don’t take it as seriously,” he said before the start of the seating round. “But it’s not as important as it was 10 years ago … I’ve had my fare share of injuries but I survived 20 years of the World Cup and right now, I’m healthy as a rock.”

But when it came time to race, Jaerbyn shined, gliding into the bracket round with ease and cruising all the way to finals. That final round came down to a matchup of rookie Legend vs. Legend of Honor.

Five-time overall World Cup Champion Marc Girardelli is this year’s Legend of Honor at the Korbel American Ski Classic, and so it was fitting the skier from Luxembourg had the pleasure of skiing in every round of the Legends competition. Only one Legend of Honor is chosen each year at the American Ski Classic. But in an exciting finish, it was Jaerbyn who skied away with it.

“He’s a great skier and he beat me a few times in the World Cup … so this feels great for me,” Jaerbyn said after the race.

The women’s Legends race went to another former member of the Swedish Ski Team, Ylva Nowen.

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