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Local Special Olympians may go to world games

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Fourteen Juneau athletes won medals, many of them gold, at the 2001 Special Olympic World Winter pre-games in Anchorage.

Winning in the pre-games qualifies the athletes for the Winter Games next March, though only a lucky few will be chosen.

The Winter Games will be the largest international sporting event ever held in Alaska, with 2,000 Special Olympics athletes from 90 nations competing in seven winter sports, said Special Olympics Area Director Mary Gore.

The pre-games earlier this month brought together about 600 competitors from 23 states and four Canadian provinces.

``It was a really good test for their capabilities, especially our three women skiers that walked away with the golds,'' Gore said.

The women skiers swept the women's novice slalom division. First-year racer Kelly Haynie won gold medals in both slaloms she entered. Her teammates Joanne Sam and Jessica Gilbert also took golds in the division, as well as a silver and

bronze.

Like the women skiers, many of the Juneau athletes were naturals in their sports. This was the first year Outdoor Recreation and Community Access volunteers offered snowboard and snowshoe training. The seven competitors in those sports brought home three gold medals, five silvers and six bronzes.

John Magalotti won two golds and a silver in snowboarding, a sport he started this year.

``I kind of loved it. It's kind of addicting, kind of like skiing was,'' said Magalotti, who skied for three years first. He said many of the skills transferred to the board.

``Once you learn to keep your balance on skies, then you can snowboard.''

Though he was new to the sport, Magalotti was placed in the advanced category, competing against other snowboarders with more experience.

The snow on the course at Alyeska Ski Area was hard and icy, but Eaglecrest Ski Area in Juneau had prepared him for anything.

``Icy, powder, slush, you name it I can snowboard on it.''

Now Magalotti hopes to go to the actual Special Olympic World Winter Games next March. All the athletes who won medals qualified for the games, but they won't all get to go, Gore said. The state gets 38 spots at the games, and many will be taken up by a hockey team.

The remaining spots will be filled by pulling the names of qualifying athletes from a hat.

``If my name doesn't get pulled the first time, it might get pulled the second,'' Magalotti said.

Rachelle Flansaas also has a chance of going to the Winter Games. She won her gold in the second of three snowshoe races.

``I was focusing a lot more and I was paying a lot more attention to the second race,'' Flansaas said. ``It went fine. I got a gold medal and, well, I like getting medals.''

Melvin Starr also came home wearing a gold medal from skiing. Ray Carpenter won two silvers in the intermediate skiing category.

Justin Roberts won one gold medal in the giant slalom, and came close to a second. He knew he had tough competition. The six skiers had all timed within 1/100th of a second of each other in an earlier heat.

``He knew he had to go for it,'' Gore said. ``He was in perfect form, tucked, just cruising down the hill.''

Then Roberts caught the edge of his ski on something and flipped, head over heels.

``That one edge cost him from a gold medal to sixth place. It was definitely the agony of defeat,'' Gore said.

Carl Behnert felt some of the same agony. Though he won a silver and bronze skiing the slalom, he'd really wanted a gold medal. He's been skiing for 17 years, since he was about 4 years old.

``I was kind of a little bit angry because I got the bronze,'' he said. ``But after a while I began to feel better.''

There were other near misses.

Gore, the local Special Olympics director, said Mirov Menefee was a foot from the finish line when he stopped snowshoeing and threw his hands in the air in triumph. Two racers passed Menefee while his coaches coaxed him to take the final step, leaving him with a bronze instead of a gold medal.

Ed Parish also came close to a medal. He was in the lead until the final lap of the 400-meter snowshoe race, when he sat down in the middle of his lane, Gore said. After a few minutes his coaches convinced him to get up, but instead of racing he veered off the course and into the sidelines.

``He finished the race in third place, but was disqualified because he had to stop in the middle of the race to hug his cheering fans,'' Gore said.



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