Puckett takes skiercross title
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Casey Puckett’s eXorcism is complete.
Avenging a “rookie mistake” that led to an embarrassing early round exit in his X Games skiercross debut last year, the Old Snowmass resident recovered from a close call then tucked away to a narrow victory in the finals of the men’s skiercross Saturday, Day 1 of the 2004 ESPN Winter X Games at Buttermilk.
Puckett, an Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club alpine coach, nearly gave away the race after launching, off balance, into a lofty orbit over the second-to-last jump on the X course. But somehow Puckett kept it together and edged out defending champ Lars Lewen of Sweden in the last lunge for the finish line.
For Puckett, a former 12-year U.S. Ski Team racer, the transition from U.S. national champion alpine racer to X Games golden boy came in just his fourth-ever skiercross race.
Puckett posted the fastest qualifying time on Friday (52.077 seconds) and was only exposed as vulnerable, perhaps, when Lewen beat him in a semifinal heat Saturday. Puckett finished second but, more importantly, he learned something of Lewen’s own vulnerability.
“I learned that you can’t beat him out of the start,” said Puckett, “but that I’m faster than he is. And when I got a chance, I saw that window and I took it.”
Lewen led the six-man finals out of the start, and Puckett, trailing in second, saw the window after a section of rollers. Puckett pressed to squeeze every bit of speed out of the terrain, eventually passing Lewen as the course entered the more technical section of big jumps and banked turns.
“I was close enough to him to use my gliding skills to try and take him,” Puckett said. “That’s what I know, so I tried to use my strength: Get as good a start as I can then really try to work the course.”
After he pulled into the lead ” and with victory nearly in sight ” he almost lost it off the second jump up from the finish. He leaned back at the moment of takeoff and quite literally took off.
“Oh my god,” Puckett said, laughing. “I took it pretty much the same, but I knew I had a lot of heat on my butt. I came up, gave a little [speed] check before the jump, because it launches you, and then press. And I kinda missed the press that time, went straight up in the air, lost my balance and everything.
“I thought I was giving it away right there. Luckily, the guys behind me caught a lot of air, too.”
Puckett, the one and only 24 Hours of Aspen men’s solo champion, said he wasn’t going to settle after what happened last year.
“I try and protect the home turf,” he said. “I didn’t care if I was second through sixth. I wanted to win. That’s all I was thinking about. And when [Lewen] took me out of the start, I thought, ‘It’s time to take him. I’m not gonna put up with this.’ Luckily, I took him down.”
Sun Valley, Idaho’s Reggie Christ, a former teammate of Puckett’s on the U.S. Ski Team, finished third in the men’s finals.
Austrian unseats Cline
Four-time women’s skiercross gold medalist Aleisha Cline (also a former 24 Hours of Aspen champion) was unseated by Austrian Karin Huttary for the women’s skiercross title Saturday.
Huttary, runner-up to Cline in her X Games debut last year, edged Cline first in a semifinal heat as the women finished a close 1-2. In the six-woman finals on the X course, Huttary again eked out a win over Cline.
Cline, who had won four of the five women’s skiercross races in the history of the X Games, was forced to settle for the silver medal. Sweden’s Sanna Tidstrand finished third; Aspen native and resident Asia Jenkins was 13th.
For Huttary, beating Cline took on the same importance as winning.
“She’s won here so many times, it was a big, big goal to beat her ” and win this competition,” she said.
“She’s a super-fast glider,” the Innsbruck resident said. “I just took the turns a little bit better.”
Cline, for one, was gracious in accepting her first silver piece of X Games hardware.
“The girls that we’re racing today are exceptional skiers,” said Cline of Whistler, British Columbia. “Women have raised the bar. The skiers now are really good. In the past few years the skiers have been good, but now they’re exceptional.
“The difference between Karin and I? Karin maybe skied the turns a little cleaner, maybe she wanted it more, I don’t know.”
Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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