Winning wasn't on his mind when Juneau's Joe Tompkins entered the starting gate for Sunday's Disabled World Cup Super-G race in Abtenau, Austria.
In his World Cup slalom and giant slalom races earlier that week in Abtenau and Tignes, France, Tompkins had finished in the 10th- through 16th-place range among monoskiers. So while winning was a possibility, it wasn't expected as the racers prepared for their first speed event of the year.
Tompkins, 35, was one of the first monoskiers to hit the course Sunday, and he nailed it. Skiing a tighter line than usual around the gates, Tompkins was the top monoskier and third overall with an adjusted time of 1 minute, 5.56 seconds.
Tompkins was more than a full second faster than the second-place monoskier, Akira Taniguchi of Japan, who posted a time of 1:06.69. Kevin Bramble of Truckee, Calif., took third among monoskiers in 1:07.04.
The only people faster than Tompkins were blind skier Dudas Radomir, guide Mikulas Juraj of Slovakia (1:04.23) and standing skier Masahiko Tokai of Japan (1:05.04).
"I knew I could be in the top seven, (but) not first," Tompkins wrote in an e-mail Monday. "But I will take it."
The monoski division victory was the best finish in a Disabled World Cup race for Tompkins since the very first official Disabled World Cup race, a two-run downhill in December 1999 in Breckenridge, Colo., where Tompkins won the overall title.
Since then, Tompkins had reached the podium in American races. But he'd been down in the pack in World Cup events. His best international finishes were sixth places in the 2002 Paralympic downhill and Super-G races in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a sixth-place finish in the downhill at the 2000 World Championships in Switzerland.
For Sunday's race, Tompkins had some family support, as his mother, Betty, and sister, Christal, were in Austria to watch him race. Tompkins said they will be with him through the end of the World Cup races, which end with a giant slalom race today in Wildschoenau, Austria.
Having his mother and sister there helped calm Tompkins as he waited for the other skiers to complete their runs.
"It was cold and snowing and a little foggy," Tompkins wrote of the course. "I was one of the first racers in a mono out of the gate, and I knew that I had to go for it. I was just thinking I should bring in my line. I did not think it (the run) was that good when I was done, but after Bramble came down and he was 112 seconds slower I knew it might be good. I just had to sit through about 20 more skiers."
In earlier World Cup races this month, Tompkins was involved in the more-technical events of slalom and giant slalom, which aren't his specialty. The two scheduled downhill and two Super-G races in Tignes, France, were canceled due to snow conditions. One of those races was converted to a giant slalom, but the others weren't made up.
In a giant slalom race on Monday, Jan. 19, Tompkins finished 12th among monoskiers and fourth among Americans with a two-run time of 2:31.80. Andreas Schiestl of Austria won the race for monoskiers in 2:11.02, with Italy's Fabrizio Zardini second in 2:15.27 and Bramble third in 2:15.42.
In a second giant slalom on Wednesday, Tompkins took 10th among monoskiers and second among Americans with a two-run time of 2:41.62. Schiestl won the race for monoskiers in 2:26.48, while Tyler Walker of Franconia, N.H., was second in 2:30.22 and Zardini was third in 2:32.43.
In a slalom race on Thursday that ended the events in Tignes, Tompkins finished 13th among monoskiers and fifth among Americans with a two-run time of 1:30.03. Martin Braxenthaler of Germany won the race for monoskiers in 1:10.63, followed by Switzerland's Hans-Joerg Arnold in 1:16.61 and France's Jean-Yves Le Meur in 1:19.67.
On Saturday, the racers competed in a giant slalom in Abtenau, Austria, and Tompkins finished 16th among monoskiers and third among Americans with a two-run time of 2:28.74. Walker won the race for monoskiers in 2:13.50, followed by Japan's Taiki Morii in 2:15.62 and Junichi Hasegawa in 2:16.02.
After his victory on Sunday, Tompkins followed that up in a Super-G in Wildschoenau, Austria, with a seventh-place finish among monoskiers and third among Americans, posting a single-run time of 1:30.57. Morii won the race for monoskiers in 1:24.83, followed by Schiestl in 1:25.77 and Bramble in third in 1:26.87.
"Things are going well and I was just planning on breaking into the top 10 a few times," Tompkins wrote. "Finishing the races is a goal that I set the first part of the season. I am still improving and learning lots and trying to keep the mistakes to a minimum."
After today's giant slalom race in Wildschoenau, the 17-member U.S. Disabled Ski Team will return to North America.
Tompkins said he plans to train at Whistler, British Columbia, for awhile, then will head to Columbia Crest races in Winter Park, Colo., on Feb. 20.
After the Columbia Crest race series, Tompkins will head to Kimberley, British Columbia, for Disabled World Cup races Feb. 23-27. Then it's on to Vail, Colo., for the U.S. Disabled Alpine National Championships on Feb. 29 through March 7.
The U.S. Disabled Ski Team will return to Europe for the World Cup Finals on March 16-19 in Sestriere, Italy.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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