Bormio, Italy, Dec. 21, 2000--Overcoming a near-spill midway through his second run, Erik Schlopy (Park City, UT) turned his high-wire act into a second-place finish Thursday in a World Cup giant slalom, the best result by a U.S. man in nearly 18 years - since Phil Mahre won the final GS of the 1983 season and cemented his third straight World Cup overall title.
"What a race! Erik almost tipped over in the middle of that second run as he went into a righthandturn on a fall-away," said U.S. SL/GS Head Coach Jesse Hunt. "But he regained his composure andgot back into it. What a finish!"
Christoph Gruber of Austria had a pretty good day of his own, winning the first World Cup of his career in 2:12.33. Schlopy - the only U.S.skier to reach the second run - was second in 2:12.52 with Swede Fredrik Nyberg, the first run leader, completing the podium in 2:12.76.Completing the top five: Michael Von Gruenigen of Switzerland fourth (2:12.94) and Norway's Kenneth Sivertsen fifth (2:13.12).
Schlopy, starting 21st, was fourth after the foggy first run and, running 27th in the flip-30 format for the final run, shrugged off thegnarly conditions.
"I'm kinda used to it, so it didn't bother me too much," he said. "I started 27th and I've been starting first runs in the mid-20s, so thesnow conditions are what I'm used to. It was definitely chewed up, pretty rough even for the first guys on the second run."
Race: Go? No go?
Actually, he said, when the thick fog settled-in before the race, Schlopy was unsure whether the race - already rescheduled fromsnowless Kranjska Gora, Slovenia - would be held. He hoped it would be run.
"I didn't think the race was gonna go," he said. "But I think one of my fortes in my skiing is my touch, so when it's foggy, I get excitedbecause I ski very well by touch and feel. I think it's a bit of an advantage."
The 1994 Olympian also recalled his three years as a pro racer following the 1995 season before he decided to return to the World Cupcircuit. As a pro, skiers would have multiple runs in a day - as they advanced - so he was used to battling ragged conditions.
"This wasn't easy," Schlopy said. "It was one of the toughest GSes I've ever seen."
Schlopy: "I was more aggressive than I planned..."
He skied more aggressively than he originally planned, which almost cost him. He was surprised at the end of his second run he wassecond. "I was so tired at the bottom of that second run from making recoveries and all the bumps, and I figured 'I'm not gonna make thetop 10,' and then I came through second ... and then it stayed."
Hunt echoed his racer about the conditions. "There was an inversion going on - above the clouds, it was sunny and blue sky, so we had towait for it to lift, and the guys had a tough time. There's a lot of rolling, a lot of undulations on the hill, and with the poor visibility ofthe first run and the flat light, it was pretty tough, but 'Schlopes' hung in there...
"It wasn't the length of the course - I mean, a minute-four, minute-five 1:04 or 1:05 - but there was a lot in it. The snow was hard andthere was a lot of undulating terrain."
Schlopy's performance was the best finish by an American man in GS since March 19, 1983 in Furano, Japan, when Phil Mahre won thefinal giant slalom of the season, cementing his World Cup overall and GS titles. Schlopy was 10 years old at the time and, as an aspiringski racer at Kissing Bridge Ski Area outside Buffalo, N.Y., had twins Phil and Steve Mahre as his heroes.
"I'm psyched - so psyched for Bode's third and I know he's happy for me. The rest of the team's so supportive. We're all getting there andone of us is gonna punch in for a win," Schlopy said. With his fourth top-10 - second top-5 - of the season, he stands 12th overall, fifthin the World Cup GS standings.
Thursday's result followed a third-place performance Sunday in Val d'Isere, France, by Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) - the first GS podiumby a U.S. man sincPhil Mahre's third at Aspen, Colo., on March 5, 1984.
Next Race in Two Weeks?
Thursday, Miller had one of the fastest intermediate times on the top section of the first run before running into trouble in the poorvisibility and skiing off-course in the middle. Casey Puckett was ninth-fastest before going out on the bottom of the course, and ChipKnight also skied out while Thomas Vonn (Newburgh, NY) and Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) failed to crack the top 30 in the first run.
World Cup leader Hermann Maier of Austria, who had a one-race suspension overturned Wednesday by an International Ski Federationappeals panel, was third in the first run but struggled on his final run and finished 10th. He had been DQ'd Sunday in Val d'Isere forspending extra time beyond the 60-minute inspection period for the GS; informed later when he had gone back to the top of the course, heskied down the run before the race began and was fined and suspended - temporarily, as it turned out - from the Bormio race.
Although Bormio hosted the GS from Kranjska Gora, the Cafe de Colombia men's schedule is searching to shift the annual post-Christmasdownhill in Bormio. There was enough snow for the GS, but organizers felt there was not enough on the speed course, recognized as one ofthe toughest in racing, so they gave up the downhill. There has been no decision about relocating the DH, so the next races are a GS andslalom Jan. 6-7 in Les Arcs, France, with another giant slalom on the 9th in Adelboden, Switzerland.
Cafe de Colombia World Cup, Bormio, ITA - Dec. 21
Men's GS (from Kranjska Gora, SLO)
1. Christoph Gruber, Austria, 2:12.33
2. Erik Schlopy, Park City, Utah, 2:12.52
3. Fredrik Nyberg, Sweden, 2:12.76
4. Michael Von Gruenigen, Switzerland, 2:12.94
5. Kenneth Sivertsen, Norway, 2:13.12
6. Andreas Schifferer, Austria, 2:13.15
7. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 2:13.16
8. Lasse Kjus, Norway, 2:13.17
9. Mitja Kunc, Slovenia, 2:13.18
10. Hermann Maier, Austria, 2:13.36
11. Josef Strobl, Austria, 2:13.43
12. Marco Buechel, Liechtenstein, 2:13.44
13. Sami Uotila, Finland, 2:13.59
14. Vincent Millet, France, 2:13.62
15. Urs Kaelin, Switzerland, 2:13.71
16. Lasse Paulsen, Norway, 2:13.73
17. Uros Pavlovcic, Slovenia, 2:13.94
18. Jernej Koblar, Slovenia, 2:13.96
19. Massimiliano Blardone, Italy, 2:13.98
20. Rainer Schoenfelder, Austria, 2:14.01
21. Steve Locher, Switzerland, 2:14.11
22. Jeff Piccard, France, 2:14.44
23. Stephan Eberharter, Austria, 2:14.48
24. Heinz Schilchegger, Austria, 2:14.56
25. Juerg Gruenenfelder, Switzerland, 2:14.67
26. Patrice Manuel, France, 2:14.91
27. Fredric Covilli, France, 2:15.55
Did not qualify for 2nd run: Thomas Vonn, Newburgh, N.Y.; Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, Calif.
DNF-1: Bode Miller, Franconia, N.H.; Casey Puckett, Aspen, Colo.; Chip Knight, New Cannan, Conn.
Cafe de Colombia World Cup
Men's Overall (14 races)
1. Maier, 657
2. Kjus, 441
3. Eberharter, 417
4. Von Gruenigen, 412
5. Schilchegger, 399
6. Nyberg, 375
7. Schifferer, 373
8. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway, 290
9. Gruber, 268
10. J. Strobl, 246
11. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 203
12. Schlopy, 201
13. Hans Knauss, Austria, 187
14. Mario Matt, Austria, 180
15. Buechel, 173
21. Miller, 140
30. Chad Fleischer, Vail, Colo., 101
33. Rahlves, 90
85. Casey Puckett, Aspen, Colo., 20
95. Chris Puckett, Boulder, Colo., 14
103. Dane Spencer, 11
109. Vonn, 9
117. Brett Fischer, Winter Park, Colo., 2
Men's GS (5 races)
1. Von Gruenigen, 350
2. Maier, 286
3. Schilchegger, 219
4. Nyberg, 200
5. Schlopy, 191
6. Schifferer, 185
7. (tie) Buechel and Kjus, 138 each
9. Miller, 126
10. Christian Mayer, Austria, 117
33. Rahlves, 26
37. Casey Puckett, 18
44. Spencer, 11
46. Vonn, 9