Red Bull at Squaw Valley
It was like seeing Michael Jordan botch a dunk or Mark McGwire miss third base on a home trot.
Shaun Palmer was burying the field in the finals of the Red Bull Ultra-Cross Saturday at Squaw Valley USA when inexplicably the South Shore extreme sports star caught an edge going over a jump and tumbled into protective fencing only 10 feet from the finish line.
The crash left Palmer and partner Xavier De Le Rue of France fourth and short a few thousand bucks in a unique relay competition that combines the talents of skiers and snowboarders.
Palmer was unavailable for comment, but several other local competitors saw the crash and were shocked.
“Everyone was silent while he was in the air,” said Sarah John, a two-time Red Bull women’s champion. “It was weird. If he would have gone down in the fall line, he would have slid straight across the finish line. But he came off at and angle and wound up against the fence.”
Chris Hernandez, who paired with Palmer to win last year’s Red Bull contest, was as stunned as John.
“He definitely had the contest won. He was 50 yards ahead of the skiers in back of him,” Hernandez said. “He caught a tip on the jump and got hung up in the air.”
Chris Davenport, a pro skier, was the beneficiary of the crash, as he and his snowboard partner walked away with the $10,000 first prize.
Hernandez, a World Cup bump skier, and partner and roommate Johnny Pares, qualified for the 16-team final round Friday, but were knocked out in the first round of eliminations Saturday.
“He did way better than I expected,” said Hernandez of his roommate, who was doing his first big-time boardercross event. “He has a good head on his shoulders, which you need in an event like this. If you’re scared from the start, you’re not going to win.”
Hernandez, who will make his 2001 World Cup debut this weekend in Sunday River, Maine, nearly came from behind to propel his team into the round of 8.
“I nailed my run,” he said. “I had quite a bit of catching up to do. On the four turns in the middle I railed around all of them. I passed one guy in the flat and maybe if I had another 100 yards I would have been able to catch the second-place guy.”
Only the top two finishers in the four-team heats advanced to the next round.
John and teammate Michelle Yu also were eliminated in the women’s round of 16 after meeting the qualifying standard Friday.
However, John feels her spectator-pleasing crash near the finish might land her and Yu on TV when the event airs later in the year.
“It was a pretty awesome crash. I lost both skis,” John said.
Yu came in third in her snowboard heat, forcing John to pick up a place during her skiing heat in order to qualify the team for the quarterfinals. John passed into second place once during the heat, but the skier came back to pinch her off the course and out of the competition.
“It’s all fun and I started it,” John said. “She left the door open. As in BMX and motocross you just take the corner closer. She was far off the gate and I went on the inside. I was really stoked because they always pass me. I feel I broke through on my skiing, so it made the contest really fun.”
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Athletes from across the globe will make their way into the National Stadium in Beijing, China, next month for the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.