Klug and Bleiler are crowned U.S. national champs
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Snowboarders Chris Klug of Aspen and Gretchen Bleiler of Snowmass Village captured U.S. National Championships over the weekend at the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort in Truckee, Calif.
Klug, 29-year-old bronze medalist in parallel giant slalom at the Salt Lake City Winter Games, won the slalom on Friday over fellow Olympian Jeff Greenwood of Connecticut.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Bleiler edged out Tricia Byrnes of Vermont to capture the crown in women’s halfpipe. In late January, it was Byrnes who edged out Bleiler for the the third and final U.S. Olympic Team slot. The riders were tied in the selection standings after five qualifying events, and Byrnes got the nod based on a series of tie-breaker criteria.
“It was definitely a good win for me,” Bleiler said. “It was frustrating missing the Olympics, so it was fun to come out here and pick up a win.”
In Sunday’s parallel giant slalom, Klug’s featured event, he finished off the podium in fourth place, behind Canada’s Jasey Jay Anderson, Vermont’s Ian Price and Washington’s Benjamin Fairchild.
In Friday’s slalom, a two-run timed event, Klug posted the fastest first-run time and held on for victory.
“The course held up really well,” Klug said. “It was a challenging course, really long. I thrive on the more demanding courses like that. I’ve been riding really good slalom for the past month. I had a fun time out there.”
After winning the Olympic bronze medal, it’s been an event-filled month for Klug, including an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and a trip home to Aspen for a celebratory parade.
“It’s been really unbelievable,” Klug said. “The Olympics were the best time of my life. The town of Aspen has been great. I was so proud and it’s really a dream come true.”
Coincidentally, Klug’s younger sister Hillary, a freshmen at Colby College in Maine, finished ninth in the women’s slalom, also on Friday.
Bleiler, a 2000 Aspen High graduate, entered Saturday’s finals in first place. Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist, crashed in Friday’s qualifying round and did not advance to the eight-woman finals.
Bleiler cemented victory as she stomped a back flip to fakie toward the bottom of the halfpipe in a run that also featured back-to-back 540s and solid straight airs.
“The amplitude wasn’t as good today as usual,” she said. “There definitely was some good riding, but it was really inconsistent because of the conditions.”
Bleiler scored a 260 from the judges, well ahead of Byrnes (208) and the third-place finisher Kim Stacey of Vermont (156). With the win, Bleiler collected a new Chevy truck.
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