Cook, Francis win U.S. super G titles |

Cook, Francis win U.S. super G titles

Kevin Francis races down the course in the men's Super G at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Carrabassett Valley, Maine, Sunday, March 23, 2008. Francis won the event. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine ” Battling gusting, swirling wind, Stacey Cook and Kevin Francis claimed the super G titles at the U.S. Alpine Championships.

Cook collected her second national title when she edged teammate Leanne Smith by five hundredths of a second. Cook also won the super G crown on the same hill in 2006.

Katie Hitchcock was third, and World Cup overall champ Lindsey Vonn finished fourth.

“I just got blasted with headwind on the bottom,” said Vonn, who started 10th. “There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just luck of the draw. Some got headwind, some got tailwind, some got side wind. It was kind of a tornado going around circling the mountain.”

Cook said early in her run she was concerned about the wind, but just kept it going. “I thought for sure I had gotten that headwind. I seemed to have gotten a lot of those this year so maybe today was my break,” she said.

Francis said the wind was blowing in his face, too, as he stood at the top of the Narrow Gauge trail at Sugarloaf waiting for his start. Racers get a 10 second window they must start within, so he waited out a gust and started during a brief lull. From there it was just a case of believing in the course report from his coaches.

“They sent up a sweet report,” he said. “I thought I set up (for a steep pitch) a little too much, but it worked out because I carried a lot speed down there.”

Francis beat out Bryon Friedman for his first national title and rounded out a season portfolio that includes the Nor-Am super G crown and some strong results in European Cup racing.

He agreed it was likely his season would be defined more by the national title than the Nor-Am title that guarantees him starts in World Cup super G’s next season.

“You have to love coming to nationals and skiing well,” he said with a smile.

Friedman said he may have kept his place on the U.S. Ski Team because of his result in the race. He had missed the better part of three seasons after sustaining severe injuries in crashes at Chamonix, France, in 2005, and then re-breaking his leg at the beginning of last season.

“The goal at the beginning of the season was to ski without pain, and here I am, skiing without pain,” he said.

But the coaches, he said, have continued to escalate the criteria he has had to meet to stay on the team. This result, he hoped, would help convince them he belongs.

Marco Sullivan, winner of the prestigious Arlberg-Kandahar downhill in Chamonix, France in January, was third and said he felt he had a bit of a target on his back in the races here.

“I have the best points,” he said referring to his international ranking, “so I knew all these guys would be coming after me.”

He finished third on the day, marking his sixth career podium in national championship competition. He won the super G crown in 2002 and the downhill title last season.

The weather, despite the swirling wind, was a marked improvement over any the competitors have seen since the first racing at Sugarloaf was canceled last Wednesday.