Ford, Gregorak crowned downhill champions at Aspen
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Julia Ford (Plymouth, N.H.) and Will Gregorak of Longmont were crowned downhill champions Wednesday at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Aspen.
Ford handily took the women’s title by almost a second over Kiley Staples (Park City, Utah), while Gregorak was edged by Canadian Dustin Cook by a mere two-hundredths of a second on a wind-shortened course.
Aspen’s Wiley Maple finished fifth (1 minute, 12.74 seconds) on the men’s side.
The first-time champions follow in the footsteps of U.S. greats like five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller (Franconia, N.H.) and four-time World Championships medalist Julia Mancuso (Squaw Valley, Calif.). Defending champions Travis Ganong (Squaw Valley, Calif.) and Leanne Smith (Conway, N.H.) did not compete after racing both super-G and downhill at the 2011 World Alpine Ski Championships last week in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Gusting winds lowered start to create an incredibly tight men’s race with only three-hundredths separating the top three.
Third-place finisher Erik Fisher (Middleton, Idaho) was just one-hundredth behind Gregorak.
Ford, however, ran away with the women’s title in front of Staples, with U.S. Development Team member Abby Ghent of Edwards in third to win the junior title.
The top men’s junior was Brennan Rubie (Salt Lake City), also a member of the development squad, who finished 12th.
“When we first got up there to inspect the wind was blowing really hard, so I kind of guessed that it was going to be moved down,” said Ford, a three-time winner of the Eastern Ski Associations Golden Ski Award for top juniors. “If they didn’t move it down we would have went flying off the second jump.”
With the long flat no longer a factor, the Aztec pitch proved to be a critical section and, on a shortened course, it ran much different than Tuesday’s NorAm downhill prelude also won by Ford.
“I had a lot of confidence after yesterday. I knew what I needed to do. It was more about executing than anything else,” said Ford, who leads the NorAm downhill standings over Staples.
“The more you shorten the course the tighter it’s going to be,” said Gregorak, who earned his first Audi FIS Alpine World Cup start earlier this season. “We’ve had four runs on this course already and I’ve struggled on the difficult section.
“Finally I got it together through there and skied really well.”
The NorAm Cup resumes Thursday in Aspen and continues through Feb. 18.
The remaining U.S. Alpine Championship events, including super-G, giant slalom and slalom, will be held March 31-April 3 in Crested Butte, just one weekend after the Nature Valley NASTAR National Championships.
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There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski stage race.