Joe Tompkins considers himself a fierce competitor, but on Monday the Juneau mono-skier wasn't worried about winning. He just wanted to be a part of history.
Tompkins, a member of the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team, was part of the first group of disabled skiers invited to the ninth Winter X Games. The nine male and six female mono-skiers, all members of the USDAST, had an exhibition series of Mono-Skier X races during Monday's action at Aspen, Colo.
"I've never taken table-tops and jumps in my life like that, but we were pretty much making history," Tompkins said by cell phone. "All of these guys have been doing this stuff for years, and I wanted to be a part of history. I'm a fierce competitor, and I wanted to win, but today I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it and be a part of history."
In the Mono-Skier X event, groups of three mono-skiers competed head-to-head in the same race, heading down a course that featured tight turns, jumps and table-tops (where the mono-skiers slide sideways across an elevated but flat surface). The winners of each heat advanced to the finals, which featured three men and two women.
Tompkins was in a heat with Tyler Walker and Scott Meier. Walker, who was born without legs, took the lead going through the first tight turn. Tompkins, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1988 car accident, was in second place most of the race but he said it was too hard to pass Walker.
"I did really well, but I didn't advance," Tompkins said. "Tyler beat me right from the get-go. The track they made for us was not a big track, and it was not meant for three mono-skiers with six outriggers. ... I was counting on my weight to carry me through the flats and rollers, but it was really hard to pass on this course."
In the first men's preliminary heat, Kevin Bramble had a commanding lead of about four mono-ski-lengths but Tompkins said when Bramble landed on one of the jumps his front binding came off and he crashed. That allowed Sam Ferguson to win the heat. Chris Devlin-Young won the other preliminary heat over Kevin Connelly.
"That's what people pay for, the wipeout shot," said Tompkins, who dug out an old Eaglecrest rock ski for the race instead of one of his competition skis because he tends to break a lot of skis on jumps with his size (6-foot-5, 226 pounds). "I definitely didn't use one of my racing skis for this."
Devlin-Young, a New Hampshire resident who was paralyzed in a U.S. Coast Guard helicoptor crash in the Aleutians, beat Walker in the final to win the men's title. Tompkins said four of the six women crashed during training, and the only two to survive - Laurie Stephens and Lacey Heward - crashed into each other in their race.
"They told us nine years ago that disabled skiers would never race on the courses and here we are!" Devlin-Young told The Associated Press after the race, letting out a whoop and pumping his arms.
Highlights from the Mono-Ski X races will be shown when ESPN starts rebroadcasting the Winter X Games in two weeks, Tompkins said. Also, at noon AST (4 p.m. EST) on Wednesday, OLN will broadcast highlights from the Disabled World Cup races in Kimberley, British Columbia, earlier this month, including a bronze-medal run in the super-G by Tompkins.
Tompkins said he plans to head to the Lake Tahoe, Calif., area for some free-mono-skiing. On Feb. 15, the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team heads to Europe for Disabled World Cup races in Austria and Switzerland, followed by the Disabled World Championships.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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