Klug: ‘I’ll be cheering extra loud.’ | AspenTimes.com

Klug: ‘I’ll be cheering extra loud.’

Jon Maletz
Chris Klug celebrates after winning bronze in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. In a hearbreaking - and controversial - decision by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the 33-year-old snowboarder won't be joining fellow Roaring Fork Valley residents Gretchen Bleiler and Jason Smith at this year's games. (Aspen Times Weekly file)

Aspen’s Chris Klug waited patiently on Friday, Jan. 27, as an arbitrator determined his 2006 Olympic fate.Five days earlier, the 33-year-old had come face to face with the sobering fact that U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association officials had left him off their roster of 16 athletes, derailing his bid to compete in his third Olympics.For nine hours, the 2002 bronze medalist pleaded his case in Denver on Jan. 26. The bulk of Klug’s grievance focused on language in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Olympic selection guidelines.At issue was the meaning of the phrase “World Cup results,” which the USSA uses to determine who makes the team. Because no alpine men’s snowboarder had a top four World Cup finish – such a finish earns an athlete an automatic spot on the team – USSA officials weighed Klug and Tyler Jewell’s top two finishes against each other.

Klug interpreted the phrase to mean the average of the top two finishes, which gave him the edge. The USSA and Jewell argued that Jewell’s top finishes earned more in the International Ski Federation’s weighted points scale; Jewell’s ninth-place finish gave him a 360-310 edge over Klug.”I feel they picked the wrong guy,” Klug said before the hearing. “I’m confident they will reverse the decision.” While arbitrator Maidie Oliveau reviewed testimony from Klug and USSA coaches and athletes, Klug was left to wonder as he made the long drive back to Aspen. Left to wonder where he went wrong. In the first of four Olympic qualifiers in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 16, Klug fell. But he rebounded with back-to-back Race to the Cup parallel giant slalom victories at Copper Mountain in November.

There was reason for concern again after Klug’s 16th- and 33rd-place finishes in Le Relais, Quebec, Dec. 17-18. For the second time, the Aspenite had failed to make a statement in an Olympic qualifier. But Klug, the eternal optimist, kept his sights focused on Turin.”It’d be easy to panic and say, ‘My God, if I don’t get a couple top 10s, I’m not going to the Olympics,'” he said on Dec. 22. “But I have two solid chances. I wouldn’t bet against me.”On Jan. 8, Klug finished 15th in the Kreischberg, Austria, qualifier, after making a mistake on the course’s final gate.It came down to Olang, Italy, in the season’s final qualifier on Jan. 15. Klug had won on the Olang course in 2001, just six months after a liver transplant. He was flawless on the course’s top half but carried too much speed into the bottom and flew off the course.

Oliveau handed down her much-anticipated Jan. 27 decision just before 3 p.m. Klug eagerly waited by his phone. He was not alone. It took awhile for the final decision to sink in. Snowmass’ Gretchen Bleiler and Basalt’s Jason Smith were on their way to Italy, but Klug would watch from the sidelines.Klug couldn’t hide his disappointment during a telephone conversation one hour after Oliveau turned down his appeal. He said he had received a fair hearing and that he was looking forward to finishing his 15th professional season. And, as usual, his genial outlook prevailed. “I am certainly disappointed,” Klug said. “I’ll certainly be watching Gretchen and Jason and all the Olympians. I was hoping I could join them, but I’ll be cheering extra loud.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com