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Olympians compete at Kirkwood

Sam Bauman

The Vans World Snowboard Championships, masquerading as a replay of the Nagano Olympics, came to Kirkwood Ski Resort under bright sun last weekend with giant slalom slashing and halfpipe soaring that easily rivaled the official Olympics.

The five-day meeting wound up Sunday with halfpipe 720s, 360s, Alley-Oops and edge-grabbing Olympic veterans soaring high over spectators lining the ‘pipe from top to bottom on the venue built along chair 5.

It was an American halfpipe first-place sweep as Olympians Todd Richards of Breckenridge, Colo., and Michele Taggart of Salem, Ore., won the honors. Taggart ($5,712) edged German Olympic gold medalist Nicola Thost ($2,856) by 32.7 to 32.6 points. Third was Nagano silver medalist Stine Brun Kjeldaas of Norway ($1,428) at 30.6 points.

For both Richards and Taggart, the victory was sweet after a disappointing Olympics.

“Today was probably one of, if not the toughest competitions I’ve ever competed in,” said Richards after his triumph. “I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove today. I just went out and had a blast riding an awesome ‘pipe. I think everyone coming here felt more relaxed than they did at the Olympics.”

Taggart’s best run of 32.7 barely topped Thost’s run of 32.6.

“Everyone stepped up their level of riding today,” Taggart said. “For me this win really feels good. I came back from a disappointing Olympics hanging my head, and winning here with the type of vibe is great!”

Second in the men’s halfpipe was Brett Carpenter ($5,544) of Canada, trailing Richards by a point and a half. Third was Pascal Imhof ($2,772) of Switzerland. The only other American in the halfpipe finals was Seth Wescott, who finished 15th.

Both Taggart and Richards won Olympic qualifying snowboard races at Mount Bachelor, Ore., earlier this month. Olympic gold medalist Gian Simmen of Switzerland could do no better than tie for 12th.

A bright spot for locals was the surprise third-place finish by Julie Tracy of South Lake Tahoe in the women’s bordercross final. She trailed Julie Zell of Teton Village, Wyo., and Margurite Cossettini of Australia in that order.

The Saturday bordercross was probably as exciting as snowboard competition gets. With a course that started just below the top of chair 5 with a series of sharply banked icy curves and hits that packed the flights of six in a bunch until farther down the course where they separated on the rolls and tabletops. From the typical bordercross start the race then ran through gates on the halfpipe, and exited onto the runout of the Big Air bowl.

One Norwegian rider later said, “The top of the course was bad, but the money was good.”

Men’s winner of the bordercross, Bertrand Denervaud of Switzerland, agreed with the comment, saying “Too narrow at the top. Very demanding. The very first turn on the course could make you or break you. But once you got out of the first series of gates all you had to do was hang on.”

Denervaud won $8,316.

Zell, who linked a series of soaring edge grabs in the early part of the race, was so happy with her win she didn’t even know how much she had won. (First place was good for $5,712 in cash – no checks!) She did say she was going to “save it and go on to the boarder races at Mount Snow, Vermont.”

In an extremely close second place in the men’s bordercross was Jason Brown of Salt Lake City ($5,544) with Ryan Neptune of Boise, Ida., third ($2,772).

On Thursday, a giant slalom was staged on the lower bowl at Chair 5, with Yana Sedova ($5,712) of Slovakia and Martin Freinademetz ($8,316) of Austria winning the top slots.

Sedova edged 1998 Olympic bronze medalist Brigette Koeck ($2,856) of Austria by .32 seconds. Third was Swiss Steffi Von Sibenthal ($1,428) .

The highest U.S. giant slalom placer was Betsy Shaw $298) of East Dorset, Vt.

In the men’s GS, Austrian Siegfried Grabner was second ($5,544) and American Jeff Greenwood of Granby, Conn., was third ($2,272).

In the big air event, Jim Rippie of Truckee rode away with first place ($4,752) with 33 points, thanks in part to his signature “Rippie Flip,” a 360-degree spin and flip. Tara Dakides of Laguna Niguel, Calif., pulled off a slow-rotating back flip to win the women’s event ($3,264).

Second in the men’s big air was Chris Dufficy of Canada at 32.8 points ($3,168) and third was Mike Michalchak ($1,584), also of Canada. Americans took fifth to thirteenth places.

No. 2 in the women’s big air was Kelly Kaye of Canada ($1,632) and third was American Mica Fish ($816). Americans took all the rest of the places in the air finals.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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