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The Ski Tour: Relentless Puckett makes it 2-for-2

Former U.S. Ski Team alpiner Casey Puckett made it 2-for-2 on The Honda Ski Tour, winning the skiercross event Sunday on a soft, windy Breckenridge race arena.
   Puckett, winner of the inaugural skiercross event at The Ski Tour stop in Sun Valley, Idaho — as well as X Games gold at Aspen, Colo. — proved king of the hill again Sunday, fending off Stanley Hayer for the victory. France's Enak Gavaggio was third and Carl Rixon fourth, while retired World Cupper Daron Rahlves was fifth after being eliminated in the semifinals. Puckett has now won eight career skiercross events.


BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado — Former U.S. Ski Team alpiner Casey Puckett made it 2-for-2 on The Honda Ski Tour, winning the skiercross event Sunday on a soft, windy Breckenridge race arena.
   Puckett, winner of the inaugural skiercross event at The Ski Tour stop in Sun Valley, Idaho — as well as X Games gold at Aspen, Colo. — proved king of the hill again Sunday, fending off Stanley Hayer for the victory. France's Enak Gavaggio was third and Carl Rixon fourth, while retired World Cupper Daron Rahlves was fifth after being eliminated in the semifinals.
    “I wasn’t great out of the start today but was able to hit the trannies [transitions] really well and really just squeak by those guys,” Puckett said.
    Puckett said his alpine racing background has helped him emerge as the man to beat on the North American skiercross circuit.
    “You need ski racing skills as a foundation,” Puckett said. “Without some sort of racing background as a foundation, you’re not gonna do anything. Then you need to be able to ski in traffic.”
    Puckett, who was skiing in his 12th career skiercross — he’s won eight — earned $25,000 for his effort.
    In the first semifinal, Puckett and Rixon advanced, with Rahlves finishing third and failing to secure a spot in the finals. In the second semifinal, Gavaggio was first ahead of Hayer. Zach Crist was in contention but he skied off-course just before the finish.
    Saturday, Rahlves was fastest in skiercross qualifying, ahead of Hayer, David Lamb, Lars Lewen and Puckett. But Sunday, Puckett tangled with Rahlves and Roman Hofer right at the start in the semis as Rahlves failed to find the podium in his third career skiercross race.
    “Skiing-wise, as long as I’m in front there’s no problems,” Rahlves said, “but [being behind] I was trying to react depending on what the guy in front did. … It’s tough when snow conditions are so soft. I can generate more speed out of the corners if it was hard snow.”
    “I don’t even know what to say,” an elated Puckett said in the finish area. “I was just trying to get through it, trying to execute everything from the start to the turns, try to do a really good race. I had a lot of luck. In the semifinals when I was tumbling, sliding across the snow on my face out of the start, I got lucky to be on my feet again.
    “I’m trying to be unbeatable. When I was sliding along the snow on my face, I thought I was out. I had some luck on my side to be able to stand up out of that melee. I thought, ‘OK, this campaign in Breckenridge is over for me.’ Luckily I came up on my skis and was able to advance.”
    Rahlves won the consolation final to take fifth with Crist sixth. Puckett said the men's tour should beware the most decorated American downhiller of all time.
    “I do have more years of [skiercross] experience on ‘D.’ He’s got three races and three crashes. He’s going to figure out that he needs to be a little more patient … he’s arguable the fastest guy out here," Puckett said.
    Rahlves said he takes no satisfaction from a consolation-round win. “No, it’s all about the win. The finals are the whole thing,” Rahlves said. “Zach and I decided just to go out there, battle and have a good time. That was the cleanest I was able to ski today because there was no one in my way that was slowing me down. Zach was up front skiing really good, so we were both taking a lot speed through everywhere. First heat, I was basically shutting it down so I wouldn’t slam into Roman [Hofer]. I was so amped and pissed at the start after (the semifinals). … I’m having fun for sure, but I want to come out on top, you know, battling for the win.”
    Skiercross competition involves four skiers racing head-to-head through a motocross-style course featuring jumps, banked turns, waves and modified terrain features. Saturday’s individual skiercross time trial qualified the fastest 14 athletes who advanced to Sunday’s elimination rounds. Two more athletes gained admission into Sunday’s big show via the Paul Mitchell Dark Horse qualifier. 
    “I seem to get myself into difficult situations,” Rahlves said. “That semi round was just tough. We all three tangled up, had nowhere to go. I ripped my pants apart when I crashed and shredded a whole pair of skis. I’m not very happy with the way it turned out today. Casey Puckett’s been on a good string of wins and I’m hungrier than ever to take it down. It’s not just him, there are a lot of good guys out there, but I’m kind of fed up with ending up in the nets or on the snow or whatever.”
    Puckett continues to lead THST overall point standings with 200 points, 40 points ahead of Hayer with 160. Rahlves has 95 cumulative points and Gavaggio and Lewen are tied for fourth with 89 each.

Hall tops in the pipe
    Hundreds of spectators turned out to watch the finals of The Honda Ski Tour halfpipe competition on Breckenridge’s Peak 8, where 25 of the world’s best halfpipe athletes put on an incredible show.
    Freeskiing superstar Tanner Hall stayed hot, winning the ski halfpipe competition Sunday afternoon despite battling the flu. Hall had the best judged run of the day on his first run in the pipe, scoring a 91.0, to take the victory. Peter Olenick was second, Andreas Hatveit third and Simon Dumont, winner of the Sun Valley THST event, fourth.
    “I’m really sick,” Hall said. “My plan all day was to just do one competition run and make it the best I could. After training I was put on oxygen by patrol and wasn’t sure if I could even compete. I saved all my energy for my one comp run and it turned out all right.”
    Hall nabbed gold at the recent X Games, with Dumont second.
    “I’ve seen way better runs out of Tanner,” Dumont said. “I mean I know he can take this competition any day. He got first — it could have gone a lot of different ways. He won, so congrats to Tanner.”
    A shot of "Whiskey" helped Olenick land on the podium.
    “I’m the only one doing a Whiskey Flip so far, and I’m pretty stoked on it. I landed it real good all day today,” Olenick said.
    The first athlete to successfully land a double flatspin in halfpipe competition, Olenick had difficulty at THST stop No. 1 and the X Games putting together an entire run. Not the case in Sunday's competition, as Olenick absolutely stomped each trick this time around. His efforts that earned him a best score of 89.67, just 1.3 behind Hall, was met by boos from spectators and competitors who felt
he deserved more for his incredible talent.
    “This pipe is awesome — how good the pipe is makes us look better,” said a modest Olenick. “I guess I screwed up a little bit, but I think Tanner did too. I’m stoked on the event though, The Ski Tour is going off this year, and it’s going to be really fun at the rest of the stops. “
    Hatveit was sitting in fourth position after the first run but put together an amazing second run when he dropped in switch, to a front 720, right side 900, left side 900, right side 720 and switch 900, which catapulted him onto the podium, just ahead of THST stop No. 1 winner Dumont.
    Sean Field’s solid second run was a crowd favorite and launched him from 21st position into the money, at sixth overall.
    “It felt really good. I didn’t stomp my first run so landing that second run, I was under a lot of pressure. It was just such a relief to stomp it,” Field said. “I’m stoked to be here, I’m having a lot of fun for sure.”
    Dumont, whose incredible first run included an ally-oop 900, which has never been successfully executed in competition, was visibly upset by what he felt was unfair judging. Dumont declined to make a statement but still leads the overall point’s standings with 150 points, followed by a close race between Olenick with 106, Hall with 100 and Matt Philippi with 95.
    The Ski Tour was founded by Kipp Nelson and Steve Brown, a pair of former University of Colorado alpine racers. Nelson, a trustee of the U.S. Ski Team as well as the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, wants to put the fun back in competition by involving the community.
    The tour will stage four events featuring skiercross and pipe athletes competing for $500,000 total purse. The tour now moves to Aspen, with the finals in Squaw Valley.

— Andy Hawk and Adam Boffey contributed to this report


The Honda Ski Tour skiercross results
Breckenridge, Colorado, Feb. 4,2007

Final results   
1ST PLACE    Casey Puckett
2ND PLACE    Stanley Hayer
3RD PLACE    Enak Gavaggio
4TH PLACE    Carl Rixon
5TH PLACE    Daron Rahlves
6TH PLACE    Zach Crist
7TH PLACE    Klaus Waldner
8TH PLACE    Roman Hofer
9TH PLACE    Lars Lewen
10TH PLACE    Jakub Fiala
11TH PLACE    Clic Bloomfield
12TH PLACE    Cody Smith
13TH PLACE    David Lamb
14TH PLACE    Justin Glick
15TH PLACE    Davey Barr
16TH PLACE    Kyle Sul

Halfpipe final results
RESULTS    ATHLETE    COUNTRY    RUN 1    RUN2    BEST SCORE
                   
1    Tanner Hall    USA    91.00    0.00    91.00
2    Peter Olenick    USA    89.67    57.00    89.67
3    Andreas Hatveit    USA    85.00    88.75    88.75
4    Simon Dumont    USA    88.67    83.50    88.67
5    Matt Philippi    USA    59.33    87.00    87.00
6    Sean Field    USA    23.00    86.25    86.25
7    Matt Hayward    USA    83.33    19.75    83.33
8    Colby West    USA    42.33    81.75    81.75
9    Charles Gagnier    CAN    77.67    79.25    79.25
10    Brent Abrams    USA    79.00    70.25    79.00
11    Charlie Lasser    USA    75.00    46.50    75.00
12    Scott Hibbert    CAN    31.33    74.50    74.50
13    Justin Dorey    CAN    61.67    72.50    72.50
14    JL Ratchel    FRA    58.33    71.50    71.50
15    JP Solberg    USA    67.00    32    67.00
16    Fritz VanDeMark    USA    21.67    65.25    65.25
17    Stefan Thomas    USA    55.67    63.25    63.25
18    Arnaud Rougier    FRA    60.67    42.25    60.67
19    Aurelien Fornier    FRA    50.67    55.25    55.25
20    John Symms    USA    45.33    30.00    45.33
21    Mike Riddle    USA    44.00    42.00    44.00
22    Lyndon Sheehan    USA    40.33    32.25    40.33
23    Dan Marion    USA    16.33    35.50    35.50
25    Andrew Woods    USA    22.33    27.25    27.25


The Honda Ski Tour — 2007 schedule

Sun Valley, Idaho
Jan. 11-14
 
Breckenridge, Colorado
Feb. 1-4
ABC TV: Saturday, Feb. 10, 2 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. CT / noon MST / 4 p.m. PST
 
Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado
Feb. 22-25
 
Squaw Valley, California
Tour Finals
March 8-11

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