Aspen snowboarder accomplishes part I of Olympic mission

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer
After receiving his bronze medal in a ceremony Friday night, Feb. 15, at the Olympic Medals Plaza in Salt Lake City, Aspen's Chris Klug waves a bouquet of flowers acknowledging the celebratory hometown fans. Tim Mutrie photo.

PARK CITY, Utah – In a show of calculated restraint over full-throttle power Thursday, Aspen snowboarder Chris Klug rode the conservative route into today’s finals of the Olympic parallel giant slalom at Park City Mountain Resort.

Starting from the unenviable No. 1 position in the qualifying event, Klug, 29, blazed a clean, prudent path against the world’s top alpine riders. While his time was far from the fastest after the other 31 riders crossed the finish line, Klug accomplished part one of his Olympic mission: He qualified for today’s 16-man finals.

“We got the job done. I’m in and the game goes on,” Klug said. “And now the real fun starts.

“I’m one step closer to my goal now, and I’ve got another gear if I need it. I couldn’t be in a better position.”

The 16 fastest riders from Thursday’s qualifier open the head-to-head elimination rounds at 10 a.m. today, also at Park City Mountain Resort. And in parallel giant slalom, known as PGS, the winner is the racer who never loses, not necessarily the fastest rider on the hill.

In the finals, racers are paired off according to their qualifying times: No. 1 faces No. 16, No. 2 faces No. 15 and so on. Riders race against each other in two runs, switching courses after the first run, with the faster rider advancing to the next round based on the total two-run time. Eventually, only two remain to decide who rides off with the gold and who settles for silver.

Klug qualified in 11th position Thursday with a time of 37.17 seconds, 1.48 back of the leader, Gilles Jaquet of Switzerland (35.69). Austria’s Alexander Maier, brother of World Cup champion alpine skier Hermann, was second (36.28), followed by Sweden’s Daniel Biveson (36.42).

The two other American starters, Jeff Greenwood of Connecticut and Peter Thorndike of New Hampshire, failed to crack the top 16. Greenwood finished 20th, and Thorndike was 27th.

In the women’s PGS qualifier, also on Thursday, Lisa Kosglow of Boulder was the only American among four starters to advance to the finals. Kosglow enters today’s 16-woman finals as the No. 7 seed.

On Wednesday night, before Klug learned that he had drawn the No. 1 start position, he said his tactic for the qualifier was to “go for it,” but not to go “overboard.”

He remained true to the plan.

“I was a little nervous going first, but it’s a good enough place to start – almost too perfect in that I didn’t know how hard I needed to charge,” he said.

“I was a little tentative on top, but I’ll rip it up tomorrow – clean at the top and then continue to be solid on the bottom.”

On the steep top section of the course, Klug took a line around the gates that appeared to leave a margin for error. And later, the same section of the course created problems for other racers, who struggled to make up the time on the flats at the bottom.

Klug, however, posted the fastest split time of the day on the bottom section despite his wider, more conservative line on top.

“Every time I get beat I don’t like it, even if it is the qualifier,” Klug said. “But being conservative got me into the finals, and that’s been my dream since 1998.”

In snowboarding’s Olympic debut at Nagano in 1998, Klug slipped from second place after the first run (the event was a two-run giant slalom, not the PGS) to sixth place overall after the second run.

“Now I need to be consistent and strong for the finals,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how you get there because if you’re going to win, you have to face the best guys anyway. That’s how I look at it.

“And in the finals, you don’t have to be the fastest, you just have to be faster than the guy next to you. So there’s some strategy to it. Ideally, I run my own race, put the guy in the rearview mirror, keep him there, and hopefully do that eight times in a row. But at the same time, I’ll take it one run at a time.”

By the time a racer reaches the two-man finals in PGS, he has already made seven runs, including the qualifier. Add on the two runs in the race for the gold, and the total is nine.

“Someone’s got to beat me two runs and I’m pretty confident that won’t happen,” Klug said. “I’m riding as well as I’ve ever ridden, and if I go out and ride hard, it’ll all come out in my favor.”