Walker holds on for win in giant slalom

Nate Peterson
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyMono-skier Kevin Connolly makes his way down the Golden Peak giant slalom course Saturday at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships in Vail.

VAIL – Tyler Walker got an unwanted bumpy ride in his second giant slalom run Saturday on Golden Peak at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships. In his first run, the two-year Disabled Alpine Team member’s time of 1 minute, 9.33 seconds was the fastest of the morning. Walker’s plan for the afternoon run was to ski aggressively enough to win and not make any big mistakes. He found himself straddling a tight line between disaster and success, however, after getting bucked in his bucket while attacking the pitch.”I ended up skidding a few turns to get back on line and I slowed down a lot,” he said. “I was just trying to survive because I was pretty far ahead after the first run.”Walker survived to win gold. His second-run time of 1:09.49, though slower than his first, was plenty fast enough to keep him on top of the standings.The gold came after a sixth-place finish in the downhill Thursday and a fourth Friday in super-G.Walker, who lost his legs at four after being born without much of his spine, said GS suits him better as a LW-12 mono-skier. LW-12 is the highest degree of disability of the three mono-skier classes.”The weight’s not really an issue in GS,” he said. “It doesn’t help you go faster. It’s more maneuverability. In this, I can get on and off my edge a lot faster because I don’t have a lot of weight.”Independent racer Kevin Connolly of Bozeman, Mont., finished second in the mono-skier category for the men with his two-run time of 2:23.61. Connolly said the silver medal finish renewed his hopes of being named to the U.S. Disabled Alpine team next year, after two disappointing results in the first two days of racing. “Speed events really aren’t my thing for the most part,” Connolly said. “I just don’t simply have the resources to train for them because I’m an independent racer. The only super-G training that I’ve actually done this year before nationals was when I had to carry all the poles and set up the super-G course myself with one other buddy who came up. The GS and slalom have kind of been more of my events.”

Women’s monoWorld Cup mono-skier overall champion Laurie Stephens collected her third gold medal in consecutive days Saturday. Stephens’ two-run combined time of 2:24.60 put her ahead of independent racers Stephani Victor and Ricci Kilgore. Victor finished in 2:27.44 and Kilgore finished in 2:50.68.”The first run was really turny,” Stephens said. “The second was set a little faster.” Stephens said today’s slalom, which starts at 10 a.m., will be the toughest event for her to win at this year’s American championships. Though she won the overall slalom title this season on the World Cup, she still hopes to find more consistency in the discipline.”It’s not my best event. I’m slowly starting to figure it out,” she said. Standup winners

Reinhild Moller, of Germany, won the standup race for the women with her two-run factor time of 2:33.89. Moller, who has lived in the United States for the past 15 years, is a living legend in her sport. She has won 15 Paralympic gold medals and is the first disabled athlete to receive a $1 million sponsorship contract. She lost the bottom half of her left leg in a farm accident when she was 3 years old.Saturday’s win represented another gold to add to the pile.Moller said, despite the fresh snow from the night before, that it was easy to find the fastest line on Saturday’s two course sets.”If you’re experienced, you know the answers to those questions,” she said. “You know when it’s snowed a little bit what it’s going to be like and you get prepared for it. You tell yourself, if I leave that track right now, I’m going to hit flypaper on both sides.”Sandy Dukat, a four-year vet of the U.S. Disabled Alpine Team, was second in 2:38.19 and teammate Elitsa Storey was third in 2:50.56.Disabled Alpine Team star Clay Fox won the men’s standup race with his two-run time of 2:20.48. Teammate George Sansonetis was second in 2:22.86. Blind skier Andy Par, following the sound of guide A.K. Walker’s skis down the course, was third in 2:23.74.Need for speedEagle’s Cameron Kullas, 15, represented Ski and Snowboard Club Vail in the men’s standup race.

Kullas, who was born deaf and without an abdominal muscle, also competes in the SSCV junior program. He finished his two runs in 2:42.46. “There’s no (disabled) classification for deaf skiers, but he also has no abdominal muscle, which makes him eligible,” said Candy Kullas, Cameron’s mother. “It’s his back that’s holding him up. The doctors said originally, when he was a baby, that they would be surprised if he ever sat up or walked. Obviously, we’ve overcome that.”Kullas, using his mother as an interpreter, said in sign language that his favorite experience so far at this year’s championships was Thursday’s downhill.”It was really fun and really fast and I practiced a lot for it,” he said. “I also liked the super-G. I don’t get to race much downhill. I like going fast.”Kullas goes to the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, but comes home every weekend to ski.He’s been ski racing since 3, when he started running gates in Nastar races.Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at Vail, Colorado

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