KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (Mar. 6 – Ski Racing Magazine News Service) – Nolan Kasper graduated today at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. The 21 year old American (he turns 22 March 27) won the second run of the World Cup slalom to finish second behind Austria’s Mario Matt. Sweden’s Axel Baeck actually tied Kasper’s two run time.
The American significance of this podium result cannot be over-stated. The last slalom podium from a U.S. male was Bode Miller in 2008. Aside from Miller and Ted Ligey (Miller skipped the Kranjska Gora stop and GS podium finisher Ligety skied out in the second run of slalom) you have to go back to Felix McGrath in 1988 to find a U.S. men’s slalom podium.
Kasper’s name now joins those of American legends from the early days of the World Cup when slalom podiums were more routine: From ’67 to ’72 Tyler Palmer, Bob Cochran, Rick Chaffee, Bill Kidd, Spider Sabich and Jimmy Huega all picked up podiums. And, of course, Phil and Steve Mahre got a full share in the late ’70’s and early 80’s, retiring in 1984.
Welcome Mr. Kasper. Just .09 from the win. Stunning.
How impressive was he?
Ask US Head Men’s Coach Sasha Rearick: “On the bottom that was some of the most impressive skiing of the season by any athlete on the World Cup. He took some chances, put pressure on the right spots and went really fast.
“He’s been skiing well and putting down solid skiing…. here he took it to another gear. He had to have a good race to make it to World Cup Finals, and he had a great race.”
Significant to the 2011 World Cup Ivica Kostelic was disqualified in the second run after missing a gate. He remains the slalom leader 478-442 over Jean-Baptiste Grange who was himself disqualified in the first run on a straddle. Third ranked Andre Myhrer finished fourth in the race, bumped down by Kasper and his own teammate. He remains alive for the title, but barely, with 382pts, and would need both Kostelic and Grange to face disaster in the last slalom of the season, at finals, in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Matt, with the win, moves into fourth but cannot win the title.
The win was significant for Matt as well. The 31 year old seems to be getting stronger as the season wears on, and though he is a two time World Champion in the discipline, he had been kicked off the Austrian World Cup squad for a lack of results in 2010.
“It is a very important and very emotional moment,” he told reporters. “The breakthrough really came in January. I really felt I was finally getting ready. I was not missing a lot. So when you are in the right state of mind, your body is responding and you have the right equipment it makes things easier.”
Kasper said he had been specifically training for odd course sets, indicating that may have helped. “We knew going into the race that (Ante) Kostelic and the Canadian coach (Dusan Grasic) were setting. They have a really distinctive style. They don’t really follow any form or pattern which keeps you on your toes.”
He said he was relieved to have shown his speed when it counted. “I’ve had speed in training this year and I’ve been trying to put it down in races. We had flashes of it in sections. In Schladming I was second on the second run, which was sweet.”
But not as sweet as finishing second at Kranjska Gora.