Whitefish, Mont. March 28, 2001 (AP by Tim Korte)--Erik Schlopy was the first skier on a snowy slalom course. That meant everybody else was racing for second place.
Schlopy won the men's slalom Wednesday at U.S. Alpine nationals, beating runner-up Casey Puckett by more than one second. Schlopy's two-run combined time was one minute, 29.46 seconds.
Puckett was second in 1:30.52 while Sacha Gros was third in 1:31.22.
Sarah Schleper won the women's race in 1:27.90. Tasha Nelson was second in 1:29.41 and Swedish skier Pernilla Wiberg third in 1:29.55.
Not that he needed it, but Schlopy caught a break by drawing the first starting position through a lottery. With two inches of fresh snow, he wouldn't have any ruts and it wouldn't take an extraordinary effort to win.
``I just wanted a solid run,'' he said. ``I knew if I came down with a nice line, if I skied an average race, starting No. 1, that I'd have a good lead. I didn't take any chances.''
Puckett started 24th and his 43.72-second first run lifted him into second place behind Schlopy, but he made some mistakes on the flatter upper portion of his second run and couldn't catch up.
``I woke up and looked at the snow. I wasn't very excited about my chances against Erik Schlopy when he's starting first and I'm 24th,'' said Puckett, who tied with Schlopy for the super-G title on Saturday.
Schlopy came to Montana to have fun. As far as he's concerned, his season ended two weeks ago when he was second at the World Cup finals in giant slalom to finish third in that event for the year.
``I stayed in my room and hung out with the guys,'' Schlopy said. ``I've been traveling alone so much the last month or so. It was nice to see the guys again and have that camaraderie.''
Other than Daron Rahlves winning the super-G world title, Schlopy arguably had the best season by an American. His second-place finish at Bormio, Italy, in December was the best U.S. giant slalom showing in 18 years.
Schlopy will race again this weekend in a North American slalom at Deer Valley in Utah, where the event will be staged during the 2002 Winter Olympics. He said this is strictly a scouting trip.
``The whole goal will be to study the Olympic hill, just get to know it,'' he said. ``I'm not going there to worry about points or money. I'm just going to look at the terrain and start learning how to master that hill.''
Schleper's victory made up for a disappointing result in Tuesday's giant slalom. She had the second-fastest first-run time but lost a ski about eight gates from the finish line.
``I was a little nervous at the top, hoping I could pull it off,'' she said. ``I didn't think I could have two unlucky days in a row.''
Schleper had two podiums this season, one in slalom and one in giant slalom. Her problem, like many of the Americans, has been to establish strong results more consistently.
``At least I know I can be with the best, but I'm still not totally confident at that level yet. I know I belong with the top team, but there's still a few bugs to work out, like believing in myself a little more.''
Puckett won the men's combined title while Wiberg, who won the super-G, was the women's combined winner.
Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press