Juneau’s Joe Tompkins put his retirement on hold to pacify U.S. Paralympics officials and attend qualification races at Aspen, Colo., this week.
The rocking chair plans will have to wait at least two months, as Tompkins has earned a place on the 2014 U.S. Winter Paralympics team with two completed finishes in Tuesday’s Down Hill competitions at the 2014 IPC Alpine Skiing National Championships & NorAm Cup.
“I knew I was going to Sochi anyway with my past point standings,” Tompkins, 45, said. “I just had to show them that I could still qualify.”
Tompkins finished in times of 1:22.94 and 1:24.22 for sixth place finishes after having a fourth place training run of 1:24.05.
“I was kind of nervous,” Tompkins said. “Not being on the snow for about a year and coming right out onto a downhill like that.”
Heavy snows postponed the first day of training on Monday and athletes returned to the slopes on Tuesday for one training run and a run in each of the NorAm cup and national championships.
Alaska did get a top medalist as Andrew Kurka of Palmer took the national title in men’s downhill sitting classification with 1:22.84. Tyler Walker (Franconia, N.H.) took the NorAm title with 1:22.18. The two had the closest gold-medal race of the day as their national race finishing times were within 0.6 seconds of each other, and Kurka was within a second of Walker in the NorAm.
Other results included 2010 downhill bronze medalist Danelle Umstead (with guide Rob Umstead), from Park City, Utah, taking the two titles in women’s visually impaired in 1:27.20 and 1:27.26.
Stephanie Jallen (Harding, PA.), just two days shy of her 18th birthday, won two golds in the women’s standing class with 1:39.78 and 1:38.51
Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M.), a four-time Paralympics alpine skiing medalist, won titles in women’s sitting class with 1:26.30 and 1:26.84.
Mark Bathum (Mercer Island, Wash.), a Vancouver 2010 downhill silver medalist, and his guide Cade Yamamoto (Quincy, Wash.) took both titles in the visually impaired field with times of 1:17.85 and 1:17.05.
Ralph Green (Brooklyn, N.Y.) claimed the NorAm title in men’s standing with 1:22.06 but Jon Lujan (Littleton, Colo.) claimed the national title in 1:22.84.
“The snow has been good,” Tompkins said. “There have been good skiing conditions for me down here.”
Tompkins crashed on Wednesday, four gates from the finish of the super-G portion of the Super Combined. He does not race the slalom portion. At 60-miles-per-hour coming out of what the racers call the Toilet Bowl, Tompkins found himself losing control, sliding and going through a safety fence.
“The ski didn’t want to stay up,” Tompkins said. “I had a lot of speed on probably the fastest part of the course. Just a little bobble put me off and I went into the fences. It is nothing to brag about.”
Alpine skiing disciplines are downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super-G.
According to Tompkins, the downhill disciplines are the fastest with the least amount of gates. Super G is the next fastest discipline with a bit more gates than the downhill and less vertical on the hill.
Today he is scheduled to race the super-G.
“It is just a training run for me anyway,” Tompkins said. “I am racing the downhill at Sochi and I already did my downhill on Tuesday.”
The 2014 Paralympics Winter Games will be held in Sochi, Russia, from March 7-16.
Team USA will compete in the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals in Tarvisio, Italy, Feb. 24-17 before heading to Sochi. Tompkins plans to come back to Juneau to train at Eaglecrest.
“I need to start skiing,” Tompkins said. “I need to start getting my balance and getting my skis back underneath me. I just have to put in the miles and I don’t have the money to stay here and keep at it. I just have to rip the hill, just ski it like I always ski it. I will probably just put on the longer board, train with a longer ski.”
Tompkins will be making his fourth appearance at the Olympics. He previously competed at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, 2006 Turin Games and 2010 Vancouver Games.
He has been close to a medal, finishing sixth in the downhill and super-G in 2002. Four years later he was in position for a gold-medal before a crash took him out of the competition.
At Sochi he will train for two days and then have one run.
“It could be a total of just nine minutes,” Tompkins said. “But it could feel like forever.”