The USA put a damper on the French medal celebrations at the International Paralympics Committee Alpine Skiing Europa Cup in Tignes, France on Wednesday.
And Juneau’s Joe Tompkins was the reason.
“I feel great,” Tompkins said from France, of his first Europa Cup medal. “I was having a bit of a problem breathing though.”
Tompkins broke his nose in one of two training run crashes on the course finish area prior to the race and crashed on day one, but won a silver medal on day two.
“And with a broken nose,” Tompkins said. “That had to be the toughest part about the race.”
A number of obstacles made Tompkin’s medal so incredible: The French team trains on a regular basis at the Tignes course, over fifty athletes from 14 nations were competing, and Tompkins has not competed for two years.
All these factors were looming over the USA National Alpine/Paralympic SkiTeam’s skis as the event unfolded.
France swept the medals on day one’s Downhill Sitting as Nicolas Loussalez won gold, Yohann Taberlet took silver and Frederic Francois was left with bronze.
“I messed up on the first downhill and misjudged the blind gate,” Tompkins said, “And when you are going that fast there is no stopping or unplanned turns. I always attack the course to win and give it my all.”
On day two, Tompkins finished between Loussalez’ bronze and Taberlet’s gold.
“Someone had to mix up their plans,” Tompkins said, “And that was me. They were pretty friendly. They joked around in English as best they could because I don’t know French. Most of the paralympic teams get along.”
Tompkins has medaled at other world cup or world championships. He is a three-time member of the USA Paralympic Team and competed at the 2002 Salt Lake Paralympic Games, the 2006 Torino, Italy games and the 2010 Vancouver games.
“It was pretty wonderful to not get stomped after two years of not skiing,” Tompkins said after Wednesday’s race.
Tompkins stated he raced internationally about twice a year for 13 years before he contemplated retirement quit racing in 2010. A mono-skier takes a tremendous amount of punishment in the upper body, abdominals, and arms.
“I needed to give my shoulders a rest,” Tompkins said. “And let my body heal and see if I wanted to continue racing.”
Duties as a Thunder Mountain High School baseball coach and a little league coach filled spring and summer.
A snowplow business kept him off Eaglecrest in the winter.
“I know,” Tompkins said. “That business is a conflict of interest.”
A phone call in August from Kevin Jardine, the head of the US Paralympics Committee, was hard to resist.
“He called and said ‘you are on the team Joe,” Tompkins commented. “I asked him where we were going and he said Spain and France. That is pretty appealing.”
Tompkins took a few days to consult with his family and son before accepting.
Training camp was in Vail, Colo. The first downhill race in Molina, Spain was canceled but Tompkins was able to get in training runs there and watch his teammates in the slalom events. They then drove to Tignes.
For five days the team tested the course.
“I did well with times,” Tompkins said. “But I crashed at the finishes.”
This was Tompkins, first race at Tignes. An event two years ago was called off because of too much snow.
“Even today was iffy,” Tompkins said. “The races got pushed back because of snow and wind.”
Tompkins raced today in the Super G and if he places well he will race the Super Combined tomorrow.
“The people are wonderful here,” Tompkins said of France. “The beauty here, all the castles, is incredible. The silver medal just tops it all off. I didn’t expect to do this good.”
Tompkins and Team USA race at the 2012 IPC Alpine Skiing NORAM Cup in Kimberley, B.C. on Feb.. 16-17. These races are part of the qualifying circuit for the 2014 USA Paralympic Team.