After two disappointing slalom races, Juneau monoskier Joe Tompkins felt the need for speed.
Tompkins, a member of the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team, closed out the Huntsman Cup ski series with a seventh-place finish among monoskiers (eighth among all disabled skiers) during Monday's Super-G race in Park City, Utah.
Not only did Tompkins finish seventh among the monoskiers with a raw time that was better than three of those who finished ahead of him, but his performance helped him regain some of the confidence he'd lost during Saturday's and Sunday's slalom races. Tompkins is hoping to carry that regained confidence to Europe, where the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team heads on Jan. 14 for World Cup races in France and World Championship races in Austria.
"I think it's coming together," Tompkins said in a phone interview Monday. "My whole plan is to do a little bit better. I'm looking forward and I want to keep on making baby steps."
The Huntsman Cup has been a personal trial for Tompkins, who broke both legs during a 2001 wreck at this race series and had poor results in 2002. But last year, Tompkins seemed to make a break-through with a second-place in the Super-G and other solid results.
This year, many skiers who took the 2003 season off to recuperate from the 2002 Paralympics were back on the slopes, making the field a lot stronger. Tompkins raced on the same course during the 2002 Paralympics.
Tompkins, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1988 auto accident, didn't finish Saturday's slalom race after he "caught a gate and went sideways."
Able-bodied skier Kyle Kung posted the fastest raw time Saturday 1 minute, 29.35 seconds for two runs while monoskier Chris Waddell had the fastest adjusted time for a disabled skier 1:40.23 (his raw time was 2:26.26) and took sixth overall. An adjustment factor is used on race times based on each skier's degree of disability, so some skiers may have better raw times but finish behind another skier whose disability has a better adjustment factor.
On Sunday, Tompkins finished eighth among monoskiers, but he was 25th overall (21st among disabled skiers) in a second slalom race. Sunday's scheduled race was supposed to be a giant slalom, but snow conditions shortened it to a slalom. Tompkins posted a two-run adjusted time of 1:59.78 (his raw time was 2:39.27). Monte Meier, a disabled standing skier, posted the best time of 1:37.59 (both raw and adjusted).
"The first one, it's slalom, I don't care. That's for the small guys," said Tompkins, who stood 6-foot-5 before his accident confined him to a wheelchair. "I'm getting better at it, though. The next one, it was terrible skiing. I had operator error, skier malfunction. Slalom is not my forte."
In Monday's series finale, Tompkins was back in his element. Tompkins prefers the speed events of downhill and Super-G, rather than the technical events of slalom and giant slalom.
Among the disabled skiers, Kevin Bramble posted the top adjusted time of 1:01.25 (his raw time was 1:13.00) and monoskiers took eight of the first nine spots. Waddell took second place with an adjusted time of 1:02.48, and Swedish Disabled Ski Team member Ronny Persson was third with an adjusted time of 1:02.63. George Sansonetis was the only standing skier to break up the monoskiers, taking fourth place in 1:03.04, followed by Chris Devlin-Young in 1:03.10, Nick Catanazante in 1:03.77, Dan Metivier in 1:03.87, Tompkins in 1:03.90 and Carl Burnett in 1:04.04.
"Today I made a couple of mistakes, but it was a good run for me," Tompkins said. "To be this close to Chris Devlin-Young and the other guys, it's all pretty good for me.
"The slaloms didn't do anything for my confidence, but in the Super-G, being so close, gave Kevin Bramble and me a lot of confidence. We're not technical skiers, we're speed skiers."
Tompkins opened his season in December at the Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colo., then was back in Juneau for the Christmas holidays. After a trip to Ketchikan to watch his son, Donald, play basketball for Metlakatla High School at the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic (the Chiefs won the title), Tompkins headed to Utah for this weekend's races and a ski camp.
After spending time in Utah and Colorado training, Tompkins will join the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team for his sixth trip to Europe. The team travels to Tignes, France, for World Cup races Jan. 18-22, followed by more races Jan. 24-25 in Abtenau, Austria, and Jan. 26-27 in Wildschnau, Austria.
- The Juneau Empire sports department can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.