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Koznick and Minagawa win star-studded early season races; McDonald of Dartmouth earns World Cup bert

Koznick and Minagawa win star-studded early season races; McDonald of Dartmouth earns World Cup bertToday the season kicked off with a women’s slalom in Breckenridge and a men’s slalom in Jackson, Wyoming. Kristina Koznick crushed a stacked women’s field, while Kentaro Minagawa of Japan won the men’s race after Bode Miller and Thomas Grandi crashed.

“We had 140 girls from 18 nations,” said Walt Evans, the national competition director. “I really want to hand it to the Quantum Sports Club and Breckenridge resort for everything they did to put a great race together.”

In a field full of Austrians and Italians, Koznick beat out Janica Kostelic of Croatia and Anne-Marie Gerg of Germany. Other top Americans were Resi Stiegler in sixth, and Julia Mancuso in 14th. Sarah Schleper won the second run.

At the men’s race (held on injected ice at Snow King, Wyoming), Kentaro Minagawa was the winner, but it was Ted Ligety of Park City who really turned heads, winning the second run handily and finishing a strong second.

“It was pretty ridiculous today,” said Ligety, reached by cell phone in Jackson. “It was really icy, and the first set was tough. A lot of guys went out on the top.”

Ligety, who was the Sprint/Ski Racing Junior of the Year last season after starting strong and never looking back, said he’s had some fast days of training in Austria in October, but that he’d been inconsistent.

“The first run was pretty straight, leading into some tough turns,” he said. “It was mach-80 at the bottom, and it was the best I could do to stay upright. The second run I could generate some speed, and that’s when I was giving her more.” Ligety won the second run by almost a second, and beat out World Cup slalom ace Akira Sasaki of Japan, taking home a seven-point FIS result.

The great subplot of the day was the performance of Paul McDonald of Dartmouth College. Before the race, U.S. Ski Team coaches had announced that the top American finisher in the race who had not previously qualified for the World Cup slalom at Beaver Creek (December 5th) would be entitled to filling the final start position there. McDonald, in finishing tenth, took that spot. The reigning NCAA slalom champion, McDonald will now get a rare chance to compete at the sport’s highest level, barring any conflict with academic responsibilities.

“I am pretty excited for him,” said Ligety. “It’s pretty sweet to see him make it.”

“It’s fabulous,” added Walt Evans. “That hasn’t happened since Toni Standteiner, skiing for Colorado back in the eighties, qualified for the Park City World Cup. He did pretty well, too.”

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