Asia, Casey are X rated
Aspen Times Staff Writer
While one breezed through hardly challenged, the other blew up in a cartwheeling yard sale of carnage, then somehow recovered to finish on the podium.
Either way, Aspen’s Casey Puckett and Asia Jenkins became the latest local athletes to qualify for the ESPN Winter X Games.
Puckett and Jenkins, both 24 Hours of Aspen veterans, locked up slots in the men’s and women’s skiercross with top finishes in a last-chance X-qualifier on Sunday at Sugar Bowl, Calif. Both will be among the elite skiercross fields Friday and Saturday when Winter X Games VIII gets under way at Buttermilk.
Puckett, 31, who raced with the U.S. Ski Team for 12 years and retired after his fourth Olympic Games following the 2002 season, was the fastest qualifier in a field of about 100 men. He never trailed in winning three consecutive heats en route to the four-man finals, but after a slow move out of the start, Puckett finally found himself behind ” all three other finalists no less.
So Puckett, a Crested Butte native who now lives in Old Snowmass and coaches alpine racers with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, did what he does best: find speed. He soon passed all three rivals, then added to his lead as he cruised on to victory and his second trip to the X Games. “It wasn’t a problem,” Puckett said Monday night.
Aspen native Jenkins, 27, on the other hand, seemed happy simply to still have her health yesterday, apart from a major case of whiplash.
A pilates and yoga instructor at the Aspen Club and Spa, Jenkins and two other racers were involved in a violent crash in the finals of the women’s event. Whistler’s Katie Stroshin led the pack over a large jump and pressed on to victory, but the three trailing racers bunched up and crashed hard while chasing her over the jump.
“I don’t really remember,” said Jenkins, Aspen High class of ’94. “My body’s worked. I tumbled a couple of times, and then I stood up and looked around. One girl is to my right ” she’s on her back, holding her knee, rolling back and forth crying. And the other one I couldn’t see. She was outta sight.
“I just saw skis everywhere. So I got up and said, ‘Where are my skis!’ I yelled it across the course. And people pointed to my skis. I ran up, put on my skis and finished the course in second.
“The two other girls come down, and one [Holly Shelton of Denver] broke her wrist really bad; you could see the bone pushing through the skin, and she was bleeding from the nose. And then the other one [Katie Deist of Reno, Nev.] chipped half her front tooth off, and she thinks she blew out her knee.”
Jenkins, who grew up ski racing in Aspen and later at Western State, has also had success in the realm of extreme skiing (big mountain freeskiing, that is) as well as the 24 Hours. The crash, she said without hesitation, was her worst ever.
Somehow, though, she described the course as “fun.”
“Very challenging,” she said. “And the jumps were huge.”
Puckett, too, had praise for the long and demanding Sugar Bowl course, especially in comparison to what he expects to face on Buttermilk this weekend.
“It’s not the best hill for skiercross,” said Puckett, referring to last year’s X course at Buttermilk. “It’s funny that it’s one of the biggest skiercrosses of the year and it’s on one of the wimpiest hills.
“I think they’re trying to make it longer and more interesting this year. And I hope so.”
Last year, in Puckett’s X Games and skiercross debut, he was the fastest qualifier in the timed run but then committed a “rookie mistake” and failed to advance beyond the first head-to-head round.
“I was upset about that,” Puckett said. “No, not upset ” I was angry.
“I entered last year just to try it out,” he continued. “It looked like fun and I found out that it was really fun. It’s tough when you retire, when you’ve been competing your whole life and there’s none of the competition that you’re used to. It definitely brought back some of that competitive rush that I’ve missed.
“And after making such a dumb mistake in the first heat last year, I said I’d come back and give it another go. I’m not making any predictions, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Jenkins had planned to race in the 24 Hours this year, but when it was canceled due to lack of sponsors, she said, “I still had to get that racing bug outta me.”
In Jenkins’ X Games debut, in 2000 in Mount Snow, Vt., she was fifth in skiercross. Until last weekend, she hadn’t raced a skiercross since (but she did win the opening Aspen Times Town Race Series giant slalom on Jan. 10 at Highlands in preparation).
But Jenkins says she’s hardly the competitor that she used to be.
“I’m more there for the experience and the people,” she said. “I’m just psyched to be a chick and be doing it. Very laid back, maybe that’s a good way to characterize my approach. But we’ll see where that takes me, too. It’s taken me quite a ways in the past.”
Other valley residents qualified for the X Games include Snowmass Village’s Steele Spence (skiing slopestyle), Aspen’s Chris Klug (boardercross), Basalt’s Jason “Earz” Smith (boardercross), Carbondale’s Ross Trulove (boardercross), and Carbondale’s Peter Olenick (skiing slopestyle, skiing superpipe).
Skiercross racer Tyler Williams of Aspen was thought to be slotted in as well, but an X Games official could not confirm that last night.
[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
A local kid got on the X Games Aspen podium on Sunday night, but it wasn’t the one most people expected. Even Jon Sallinen didn’t think he’d be taking home a medal.