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Park City, Utah Feb. 14, 2002 (AP by Eddie Pells)–Chris Klug’s comeback story took another positive step Thursday, when the liver-transplant survivor qualified for the finals of the Olympic parallel giant slalom.
Klug, 19 months removed from surgery that saved his life, finished 11th in the one-run event, placing him in the 16-man, head-to-head final to be contested Friday.
“What I’ve been through has definitely put things in perspective,” Klug said. “But it’s my dream to win a gold, and hopefully I’ll get that done.”
Klug was the only American man to make the finals. Jeff Greenwood finished 20th and Peter Thorndike finished 27th.
Gilles Jaquet of France won the qualifying event with a time of 35.69 seconds. In second was Alexander Maier of Austria, the brother of the alpine skiing star, Hermann Maier, who couldn’t compete in the Olympics because of injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident last August.
Jasey Jay Anderson, a medal contender from Canada, failed to qualify, finishing 29th.
On the women’s side, Lisa Kosglow was the only American to qualify. She finished seventh.
Rosey Fletcher, widely considered America’s best hope for a medal in this event, slipped up early in her run and finished 26th, out of the running.
“There’s nothing I can do now,” Fletcher said. “The race is over, I tried to do my best, and it didn’t work out.”
Americans Sondra Van Ert and Lisa Odynski will join Fletcher on the sidelines for Friday’s finals.
Maria Kirchgasser of Austria won qualifying in 41.44. In second was 1998 Olympic gold medalist Karine Ruby of France, who was .01 seconds behind. Van Ert finished 17th, missing the finals by .09 seconds.
“I’m ecstatic,” Kosglow said. “We always say, the Olympics are just another event, but look at this crowd. Nobody comes out to watch snowboarding racing like this anywhere else.”
Indeed, it was a grand stage, and an estimated crowd of 16,000 packed the stands by the end of the day, all there to watch what is largely regarded as the less-exciting cousin to snowboarding’s main event, the halfpipe.
In this year’s Olympics, the format has changed. In the finals, racers are seeded according to their qualifying times, and they go head-to-head in an elimination format until a winner is decided.
“The great thing about it, is anything can happen,” Kosglow said.
But not for Fletcher, the popular Alaskan who was widely viewed as the best hope among American women for a medal in this sport dominated by Europeans.
Her hopes ended quickly, on the fifth gate, when she caught a back edge and started spinning out. She was 4 seconds off the leader’s pace by the midpoint, and even though she finished strong, she knew it was over.
Both she and Kosglow said the snow felt much different than what they normally train and compete on. Unlike most venues, at the Olympics, the snowboarding course gets extra grooming and it feels much smoother.
“Kind of like glass,” Kosglow said. “We call it Alien.”
Fletcher felt like calling it something else.
“Just really different, I guess,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press