Klug serves notice
Chris Klug’s back was aching Tuesday night, so much so that his ride home from Copper Mountain included a much-needed soak in Glenwood’s hot springs.For the first time in two days, Klug showed his age. For two days, a field 65 strong in the Race to the Cup tried to keep pace with the 33-year-old – who celebrated his birthday Nov. 18 – in the parallel giant slalom. For two days, no one could match him. After 20 competitive runs – and a few close calls – Klug walked away with two first-place finishes and 1,000 points, which could prove to be a deciding factor for Olympic qualification.”This was a late birthday, or early Thanksgiving present,” Klug said. “I’m having fun and really enjoying it, and that’s the big reason I did so well the last couple days. I’m tired, but very happy.”On a course where he has yet to lose in seven tries – he even won a mock, single elimination race Friday – Klug put his summer of training to good use. Klug, seeded second Monday after two qualifying races, did not expect his stiffest competition to come in his first double-elimination head-to-head race. Opposing him on the opposite course, however, was friend David Biveson, of Sweden, the 2001 World Championship silver medalist. Klug beat Biveson by a board length and advanced by less than a tenth of a second, he said.Klug advanced in his matches with U.S. snowboarders Pete Thorndike and Eric Warren, then took down Californian Zach Kay in the final. “I qualified strong and I started right off with racing Biveson,” Klug said. “I was lucky to win that one and today, he spanked me in the first run.”Following a semifinal win against 2002 Olympic silver medalist Rich Rikardsson, Klug was once again paired against Biveson with a win on the line. Klug made a mistake right out of the gate when he was thrown off course after hitting a gate with his shoulder. Biveson finished the first run 0.85 seconds ahead. Rather than start to press, Klug assessed the situation and decided to remain calm. Relying on the words of wisdom passed on by a sports psychologist, Klug decided to trust his ability.Klug – standing in the starting blocks of the blue course – knew the red course was skied off midway down and difficult to navigate, he said. If he maintained his composure and stuck with Biveson at the top, he could make his move in the middle.His strategy worked to perfection. Klug was all alone when he crossed the finish; Biveson crashed three-quarters of the way down.The win puts Klug in strong position to secure a coveted Olympic berth. Qualification for Torino, Italy, is dependent upon the World Cup points accrued throughout the season and FIS points, the average of an athlete’s two strongest performances of the season. In addition, Klug can assure himself a spot in Italy with a fourth-place finish or better in one of the four remaining Olympic qualifiers. The next qualifier takes place Dec. 16-18, in Le Relais, Quebec.Klug missed out on his first chance at qualification when he fell during a run in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 16. There is no reason to panic, Klug said. He is riding well. He is healthy and having fun. He says he is riding better than he did when he won Olympic bronze in 2002. With new equipment he spent months during the summer developing in a collaboration with Burton, Klug is confident.The Copper Mountain event was grueling. Klug was up before sunrise and on the chairlift in the dark both days. The field was world-class. But after two days of competition that tested his mental and physical mettle, Klug put his opponents on notice. Maybe age isn’t such a big deal.”I’m 33. Maybe I’m a year wiser,” Klug said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen [this year], but I’ll be ready.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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