Puckett takes gold in skiercross | AspenTimes.com

Puckett takes gold in skiercross

Nate Peterson
Aspen Times staff writer
Aspen, CO Colorado

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

ASPEN ” Nursing a sore right knee, Aspen local Casey Puckett downed a few Advil, then downed former World Cup racers Daron Rahlves and Jake Fiala in Sunday’s skiercross final for his second Winter X Games gold medal.

Rahlves ” the top qualifier ” crashed near the start of the race and Puckett held a comfortable lead before Fiala made a late charge coming into the final jump. Fiala lost his balance upon landing at the finish and crashed into safety nets, but still hung on for the silver inches in front of Frenchman Enak Gavaggio.

“I was surprised,” Puckett said of Fiala nearly stealing the win. “I thought it was Daron. I mean I don’t want to put people into the fence, but I’m going to protect my lead. He tried to set me up on the outside and I just moved over and it sort of threw him off and he went straight into the fence. I was concerned. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

For the 31-year-old Fiala, finishing behind Puckett, 34, is familiar territory; he’s never beaten him in a handful of races over the past two years since he began following the skiercross circuit.

After an aggressive move in the “Daytona” turn section before the last flier, Fiala took an unusual low line that helped him quickly pass Gavaggio and Canada’s Stan Hayer. Then he set his sights on Puckett.

“I thought I could catch [Puckett] too. I just went to his left, and he veered me off a little bit,” Fiala said, his nose a still bloodied by his foray into the fencing. “I was just psyched to get second.”

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As Puckett skated into the finish corral, he raised his hands in celebration amid dozens of family and friends on hand.

The former World Cup racer and four-time Olympian injured his right knee when he landed awkwardly on the final jump of a semifinal, but felt it was stable enough to compete in the final. He took some Advil to dull the pain.

“Something was definitely wrong in there,” he said. “I hope I didn’t do any permanent damage. Definitely some sharp pain in there in my right knee. In that semi, I knew I had the win and went off that last jump and hadn’t had trouble on that jump all week, but I think the wind caught my ski or something. I got off kilter, landed it and my knee just sort of got in a weird position and it hurt.”

Puckett hasn’t lost a skiercross since he finished a disappointing sixth at last year’s Winter X Games.

That includes wins in the Jeep King of the Mountain series ” which pits two racers on course ” as well as the Honda Ski Tour’s inaugural skiercross two weeks ago at Sun Valley, Idaho. His first Winter X Games gold medal came in 2004.

“Confidence is high, but at the same time I know that anything can happen in skiercross, so I’m just as fired up in the quarterfinal as I am for the final,” Puckett said. “As you could see today, with so many crashes and stuff, you’ve got to try and distance yourself from the field so you don’t get caught up and stuff like that. I know that I’m doing well on every facet of the game. My start is good, my gliding is good and I’m just trying to keep confidence in that and win it.”

During qualifying and in the first few heats of the day, Rahlves appeared to be the fastest racer of the lot. He had the quickest qualifying time, won his opening heat handily, and was seemingly set up for a showdown with Puckett in the final.

“I kind of got trapped,” said Rahlves, the most successful World Cup speed skier in U.S. history.

Sweden’s Lars Lewen ” last year’s gold medalist ” failed to make the final and finished third (ninth overall) in the consolation final.

“With the addition of Daron Rahlves, and we’ve got Lars Lewen, [the field] is the strongest it’s ever been short of having Reggie Crist in there,” Puckett said. “The course itself is sort of an Autobahn highway. It does not leave any places to make a mistake. You can’t make any mistakes. Any little mistake, if you land a jump too short or to long, you lose your skis.”

Rahlves has admitted that his starts are his biggest weakness since making the transition to skiercross ” which will make its Olympic debut at the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010. It caught up to him Sunday.

“I was well aware of how fast Daron was going,” Puckett said. “I was watching him in every heat, and he beat me by a fair margin in the qualifier. I know that my start is better than his right now. I’ve got some confidence in that, but also watched him pull away from everyone, so I for sure thought that Daron was going to be my major competition and it turns out that my [Atomic] teammate, Jake was the one hounding me.”

Carbondale local Lloyd Tucker ” who earned a bib for his Winter X appearance at a last-chance qualifier ” finished 18th.

American women were few and far between in the women’s skiercross final, as a trio of Frenchwomen stood on the podium after their Sunday showdown.

Ophelie David held off all comers to take the gold medal, improving on her previous best finish ” a bronze medal last year.

Fellow Frenchwomen Valentine Scuotto and Meryll Boulangeat finished second and third, respectively.

Recounting the race, David said, “I had a really nice start … and really, really fast skis.”

1. Casey Puckett Aspen, Colo. 58.613

2. Jake Fiala Frisco, Colo. 59.664

3. Enak Gavaggio Bourg St. Maurice, France 60.624

4. Stan Hayer Kimberley, BC, Canada 59.821

5. Audun Groenvold Hamar, Norway 60.444

6. Daron Rahlves Sugarbowl, Calif. 58.147

7. Zach Crist Sun Valley, Idaho 59.906

8. Davey Barr Whistler, BC, Canada 60.633

9. Lars Lewen Stockholm, Sweden 60.773

10. Chris Del Bosco Vail, Colo. 59.412

11. Brian Bennett Whistler, BC, Canada 59.883

12. Hiroomi Takizawa Gumma Japan 60.098

13. Eric Archer Vail, Colo. 59.234

14. Michael Schmid Frutigen, Switzerland 59.985

15. Justin Glick Steamboat Springs, Colo. 60.620

16. Andreas Steffen Gstaad, Switzerland 60.721

17. Tyler Shepherd Denver, Colo. 60.823

18. Lloyd Tucker Carbondale, Colo. 60.897

19. Eric Andersson Nora, Sweden 60.344

20. Cody Smith Spokane, Wash. 60.434

21. Tahir Bisic Boulder, Colo. 60.460

22. Kristian Cretier Bourg St. Maurice, France 60.601

23. Klaus Waldner Vorarlberg, Austria 60.740

24. Tomas Kraus Decin, Czech 60.838

25. Roman Hofer Ellmau, Austria 60.850

26. Shaun Palmer South Lake Tahoe, Calif. 61.537

27. David Lamb Steamboat Springs, Colo. 61.540

28. Massimiliano Iezza Courmayer, Italy 61.952

29. Karl Heinz Molling Kronplatz, Italy 62.341

30. Kyle Sul Salt Lake City, Utah 62.373

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