Klug, Puckett collect King titles
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Long live the kings.
Hometown heroes Chris Klug and Casey Puckett earned their place among skiing and boarding royalty over the weekend with wins in the Jeep King of the Mountain World Professional Ski and Snowboard Championship finals on Aspen Mountain. Both athletes took first in their individual divisions, earning them some big bucks and the title of king for a day.
“I love racing on Ajax – it’s been good to me,” laughed Puckett.
Puckett, Old Snowmass’ adoptive son, was the first local to take that title when he and fellow 24 Hours of Aspen alum Anda Smalls turned out for the King of the Mountain open qualifier on Friday. Competing as a team, Puckett and Smalls took first place in the qualifying ski race – Puckett even knocked the previous men’s skiing leader, Zach Crist, from the competition – and earned a berth in the event’s finals on Saturday.
Puckett and Smalls, both former winners of the high-endurance 24 Hours, advanced as expected through Saturday morning’s quarterfinals to the evening’s semifinal races. There, Smalls was knocked from competition by Canada’s Julie Langevin, who went on to claim the overall women’s ski title.
Smalls’ teammate noted that, despite a near fall during Friday’s qualifiers, she recovered well for Saturday’s races.
“It looked like she was ready to beat Julie. That was a really tight one,” Puckett said.
Puckett also faced an obstacle during the semifinals: former Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe. The former U.S. Ski Team teammates went head-to-head Saturday night to determine who would advance to the finals.
“It was fun to race him again,” Puckett said. “I always liked Tommy. I skied with him for maybe four years on the ski team – I always looked up to him, and always respected how amazing a skier he is. He has an amazing touch on the snow.”
Puckett cleared the finish line 1.15 seconds before Moe in the first semifinal race, giving him a unique advantage in round two – all King of the Mountain races allow winners of the first race to carry their advantage into the second, deciding race with a “real time” head start.
That cushion was enough to give Puckett an edge and send him to the finals, where he faced Romuald Licinio of France. Puckett cleared the King course just .46 seconds ahead of Licinio in that first round, and prepared to carry that short head start with him to the second round.
However, Puckett wouldn’t need that advantage during the final race – Lucinio was disqualified after crashing not far from the starting gate. Puckett earned first place in the men’s ski division, taking home $5,000 in cash.
Klug, who cleared Saturday’s semifinals with a win over Canada’s Jasey Jay Anderson, faced a challenge of his own in the finals: a rival from the 2002 Olympic Games. Klug, who took the bronze medal in the parallel giant slalom during last winter’s Olympics, went head-to-head against the 2002 silver medalist, Richard Richardsson of Sweden.
During the first run of the finals, Klug and Richardsson rode shoulder to shoulder to the finish line. But Richardsson was afforded a slight advantage in the second and final run, as he won by just .01 seconds.
Then a crash determined yet another winner, it was Richardsson this time, and Klug cruised to the finish with the King of the Mountain title.
Klug was met by a cheering (and soggy, considering the day’s snowfall) crowd after his win, many holding memorabilia picked up during a past trip to the Olympics. Chants of “USA! USA!” followed Klug as he paused for television cameras.
For the women, Canada’s Julie Langevin took first in women’s skiing and France’s Karine Ruby won the women’s snowboarding race. Team champions of the day included Puckett and teammate Smalls for skiing and Team France for snowboarding.
Though Puckett and Klug claimed the weekend’s top prizes, they were not awarded the entire event’s grand title. As the event awarded performances over the span of all four King of the Mountain events – held also in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.; Boyne Mountain, Mich.; and Loon Mountain, N.H., – past performers nabbed the event’s “overall” competition.
Richardsson drove home a Jeep Liberty and the Jeep King of the Mountain Title in snowboarding for the series with 220 points – only five points ahead of Klug. Puckett also lost to a second-place finisher, as Licinio won the overall skiing title.
Team USA, Moe and Gerety, took the overall team skiing title for the event, earning Moe his second consecutive title. Team France was crowned the overall winner for team snowboarding competition.
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The third weekend of play begins Thursday and runs through Sunday with the Bantam B, Squirt A and Squirt B divisions. Because of safety protocols, spectators aren’t allowed.