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Lake Placid, NY Feb. 18– Chris Puckett added to an increasinglyproductive comeback year with a silver medal in the inaugural GoodwillGames men’s downhill. Puckett finished just .12 behind champion VincentBlanc of France, with Canadian Kevin Wert third.
In a race where the Austrians came in heavily favored, it was theFrench, the Canadians and Puckett who took charge in an excitingback-and-forth race. Austrian Hannes Trinkl, running second, took anearly lead which held until Kevin Wert, a big, burly Canadian, made upover a full second on the bottom flats to take the lead from the ninthposition. Wert held his lead until Blanc, running 17th, took over.Puckett, running 20th of 23, didn’t have the commanding presence on thetop that others before him did, including Ameican Daron Rahlves, but hemaintained one of the most consistent top-to-bottom runs of the day totake the silver.
“I can’t believe it,” said a jubilant Puckett in the finish. “I didn’thave as good a top section and can’t believe I was able to hold itthrough the flats.” The finish was a huge boost for Puckett, a DartmouthCollege graduate who has had an increasingly productive comeback thisseason after a series of injuries dating back to a training crash inNov. 1998.
“I am generally known as a good glider, and that helped me today. Thisis really exciting … I really appreciate the effort people put in toget the course ready. It’s fun to be here!”
Blanc, too, was surprised with his finish. “I new I had to have speed onthe top because I am too light for the flatter section,” said Blanc,whose career best came with a 17th at Kitzbuehel, Austria last month.”Before the race my technician and I picked a pair of skis we thoughtwould be very fast on the flats.”
Running just five skiers after Wert took the lead, Rahlves gave theAmericans fans quite a thrill as he moved to a 1.11-second lead at thesecond of three intermediate time checks. But Rahlves, the lightest ofthe American downhillers, didn’t have the speed on the bottom.
The race was run in near-zero temperatures under crystal clear blueskies. Gusty winds whipped through several areas of the course.
Despite being edged off the podium, Trinkl was happy with his race. “Itwas a good run for me, the course is great especially the top,” he said.”But I think the wind played a factor for some of us.” The Austrians hadselected all top-running positions in the pre-race draw, while thepodium times came from further back.”
The event was the most significant downhill race at Whiteface Mountainsince the 1980 Olympics won by Austrian Leohnard Stock. The GoodwillGames course featured a new top section joining the 1980 course headinginto the finish section.
The Goodwill Games will continue with the second of two men’s downhillsFriday.