Aspen’s Klug top American at Olympic qualifier in Telluride
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Chris Klug is no stranger to adversity. That should come in handy now.
Less than two weeks ago, during a training run in Telluride, the Aspen snowboarder sustained a broken right hand and wrist when he collided with the bottom of a gate.
Tuesday, with his hand in a cast, Klug took to the very same hill in the season’s first World Cup parallel giant slalom Olympic qualifier. He wound up 15th overall and first among American competitors in the race, which was a make-up of an earlier event in Limone Piemonte, Italy, which was canceled because of a lack of snow.
“I’m not happy about it, and man it’s not good timing,” Klug said Tuesday about his unforeseen setback, “but I’m determined to overcome it.
“I was riding really fast and really confident, and breaking my hand really shook my confidence a little bit. I just had to accept it and say ‘Hey, it is what it is.’ … Thank God you don’t snowboard with your arms.”
Just four qualifiers remain, the next coming Thursday in Telluride. With U.S. Olympic slots expected to be scarce for alpine snowboarders, this week is crucial.
Klug is doing his best to deflect all talk of increased pressure in what he openly acknowledges could be his final competitive season.
“This is my fourth Olympic qualification process. You know, I was talking to my coach about it and I felt a little more at ease,” he said. “[Tuesday] felt more like a Rocky Mountain Series event. I’m just having fun. … I feel like I’ve worked hard and now I’m going to enjoy the process.”
Tuesday, Klug advanced out of qualifying and then went head-to-head with Austrian Benjamin Karl. Karl took a .07-second lead after the first run – Klug’s cumbersome cast made it difficult for him to pull out of the starting gate, he said.
Klug was determined to make up ground during the final run, even if it meant taking a few more risks. The bold strategy wound up costing him.
“He had a little edge on me, and I was going for it. I wasn’t going down without a fight,” he recounted. “I took a more direct line than I probably would’ve normally … and I wiped out two gates from the finish.
“It was a little disappointing to be knocked out on the first run, but I had a great race.”
Karl went on to finish second to Canada’s Matthew Morison. France’s Mathieu Bozzetto, Austria’s Andreas Prommegger and Canada’s Jasey Jay Anderson rounded out the top five.
Steamboat Springs’ Justin Reiter finished one spot behind Klug, who admitted his hand was sore after his fall.
It will not keep him out of Thursday’s race, however.
“I’d love to get in the top eight and, if possible, the top four Thursday,” said Klug, who took second in a NorAm cup PGS on Dec. 11 in Steamboat. “I think I can do it. … I’m riding as fast as I’ve ever ridden.”
Whether that secures him a spot in Vancouver in February remains to be seen. A trip to British Columbia would be Klug’s third Olympics appearance. He was sixth in giant slalom in 1998 in Japan and won bronze in PGS in 2002 in Utah, not long after receiving a liver transplant.
The remaining Olympic qualifiers include: Jan. 6 in Kreischberg, Austria; Jan. 15 in Nendaz, Switzerland, and; Jan. 25 at Stoneham Mountain Resort in Quebec.
“I definitely want to go the Olympics – it’s a big goal of mine,” Klug said. “This time around, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been through it or perhaps this is my last season, but I’m enjoying the process. I’m focused on going out there and riding like I’ve been riding in training. I think that if I stick to that plan everything will take care of itself.”
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