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Puckett, Clark Win Ski Downhill

March 24, 2000

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) _ American Chris Puckett prevented a Canadian sweep of the men’s downhill by winning Friday’s opening event of the U.S. Alpine Ski Championships.

Puckett, 29, of Boulder, Colo., edged Darin McBeath of Canada by .32 seconds.

Kirsten Clark, 22, of Raymond, Maine, captured the women’s downhill for the third straight year, beating 15-year-old Lindsey Kildow of Vail, Colo., by .68 seconds.

In the men’s race on a sun-splashed slope, Canadians were situated 1-2-3 after the first 10 skiers had negotiated the course. Puckett, wearing bib No. 13, flashed down the relatively short course in 1 minute, 7.80 seconds, bettering McBeath’s time of 1:08.12.

Still, Canada captured the second through fifth places. Kevin Wert was third in 1:08.45, followed by teammates Jeff Durand in 1:08.71 and Stefan Overgaard in 1:08.78.

Jakub Fiala of Breckenridge, Colo., placed sixth in 1:08.80.

McBeath and Wert had finished first and second in an FIS downhill held in lieu of a training run here on Thursday, with Puckett finishing a distant 14th.

``I was very concerned about the Canadians,″ Puckett admitted, ``not only because of the training here but because of how they’ve done on the World Cup. I’ve beaten Kevin a couple of times on the World Cup this year, but in general he has finished ahead of me. Darin has finished ahead of me in almost every race. They’re aggressive, and they’re dangerous on a course like this because they’re such good gliders.

``I just knew I had to do everything I could to stay ahead of them. I think it was as good as I could ski today. I’ve had trouble on this course in the past. There are just a couple of places where you can make mistakes, and I seemed to be finding those mistakes. Today I just cut them out.

``I’m really excited. I’ve never won a race at the nationals.″

Puckett has, however, won the men’s combined title three times (1993, 1996, 1997).

Puckett benefited from a dinnertime conversation with his brother, Casey, on Thursday night.

``Casey had hooked onto some pretty neat things that he’s been thinking about in skiing, mostly technical things,″ Puckett said. ``He talked to me for about an hour. I must have taken it to heart, because I skied a lot better today than I did yesterday. I guess I’m buying dinner tomorrow night.″

Casey Puckett finished eighth.

McBeath said he made ``a couple of mistakes, and on a course like this you have to be absolutely perfect. It’s short and there’s not a lot of places to lose time. I think Chris had a perfect run today.

``I know the Americans here don’t want the Canadians occupying all their podiums, especially their top spot, so this is good for Chris. I can handle second place.″

Daron Rahlves of Truckee, Calif., who won back-to-back World Cup downhills earlier this month, finished a disappointing ninth in 1:09.08.

The defending national downhill champion, Chad Fleischer of Vail, Colo., is recuperating from shoulder surgery and did not compete.

Clark continued her dominance of this event. She won Thursday’s FIS downhill by .04 seconds over Kildow, but insisted she didn’t ski well.

``My training run (Wednesday) wasn’t very good, and then yesterday there was really flat light when I ran and I didn’t feel very good on my skis,″ Clark said. ``But today I was able to come out and put a good run down, so I’m happy.

``This course is a lot shorter than the World Cup races, but I don’t mind a short course at this time of year. I’m getting tired.″

Clark came across in 1:11.25 compared to Kildow’s 1:11.93. Caroline Lalive of Steamboat Springs, Colo., was third in 1:12.08.

Kildow, who finished second in the Nor Am downhill standings this season, said she was surprised by her result.

``I was hoping to finish in the top 10 or top five, maybe, if I skied well,″ she said. ``I surprised myself yesterday (in the FIS race), and I definitely skied well again today.″

The men’s super-G was scheduled for Saturday.

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