Ballachey, Hernandez make respectable home showing
The international freestyle skiing circuit made its triumphant return to the area this weekend as more than 200 racers convened at Heavenly Ski Resort for the “Sprint Top Gun at Gunbarrrel.” But much of the anticipation preceding the event centered around local skiers – and U.S. Ski Team members – Chris Hernandez and Brooke Ballachey’s debut World Cup efforts in front of a hometown crowd.
Ballachey was the higher finisher of the pair, posting a 15th-place finish in the women’s moguls singles competition, narrowly missing the top 12 for the final round. Hernandez nailed down 43rd overall in men’s moguls, but his placement might have been much better if not for a late-run crash. North Shore skiers Shelley Robertson and Shannon Bahrke rounded out area racers with 18th- and 23rd-place finishes, respectively.
“It was a bummer that I couldn’t make the finals,” said Ballachey, who finished fourth in dual moguls at last week’s World Cup stop in Steamboat Springs, Colo. “But I’m not disappointed with my effort. Making the finals is pretty difficult to do. Singles is not my strongest point, so to get that close and finish where I did is a good sign for the future.”
Hernandez shot out of the gates fast and was well on his way to putting together a potential top 12 qualifying run before a late crash ended his afternoon.
“I had it together and then I came off the bottom air and it went a little bigger than I thought,” said Hernandez, who was competing in his first-ever World Cup event. “I had it in my hands. I felt it the whole way down and I was probably going just a little fast coming into the bottom air.”
The crash must have been somewhat scary for Hernandez, who was competing with a rehabilitated ACL in his right knee.
“I don’t think I could have landed any worse than I did (Saturday),” said Hernandez, who injured his knee at Squaw Valley last March. “My knee is fine, though. I didn’t even feel it.”
Though Ballachey and Hernandez are virtually fixtures at Heavenly, neither were immune to a case of some telltale prerace nerves.
“I started to feel that way a little,” said Ballachey, whose sister, Robin, was one of Saturday’s forerunners for the women’s moguls competition. “The day before training, it kind of hit me that there would be so many people I knew there. But I knew it was just because a lot of people cared how I did. So I didn’t really worry about it too much.”
“I was skiing runs to get my mind off of it,” Hernandez said. “But how can you get your mind off of it when you know every single person in the crowd, practically? I relaxed when I got in the gate. I heard everyone. I smiled and I was loose and ready to go.”
Despite being under the pressure of a hometown crowd, both racers scored good marks in the eyes of U.S. Ski Team coaches.
“With Brooke, we have a program,” said Don St. Pierre, moguls coach for the U.S. team. “Our plan is to improve her air. She’s got to increase her technical skills with that. But she’s one of the best turners on the women’s tour. She’s able to hold speed. She’s extremely supple. She doesn’t look fast, but she’s so smooth coming down the hill.”
“I’m so excited for Chris,” said St. Pierre, who will likely play a key role in determining whether Hernandez will see more World Cup starts this season. “He’s got his first World Cup under his belt and the roar at the top of the course when his name was called out was certainly a show of support.”
Hernandez was very patient with his injury, allowing for nearly seven months of recovery time to make sure his knee would heal. So the fact that he’s patient with his development as World Cup-caliber skier should not come as a surprise.
“I don’t know what the (coaches) are going to do with me now. It’s all in their hands now,” said Hernandez, who nailed a helicopter iron cross trick on his first air. “I’d love to just try and get another chance. I know I can do it. I just need that chance.”
“At this stage, it’s not likely that he would continue (to compete in World Cup events in 1999), but it’s not impossible,” St. Pierre added.
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