Local athletes celebrate victories on home turf
Heather McPhie and Bryon Wilson didn’t need to buy any postcards after securing their first-ever trips to the Olympic games at Deer Valley Resort on Saturday night.
They were already home.
The Park City locals joined thousands of fellow residents and flag-waving freestyle fans from around the world at the Visa Freestyle International World Cup this weekend, as the finish areas swelled with more than 5,000 spectators for moguls and aerials finals.
"My parents are here to see my first podium, and tons of family and friends and so much support, it’s unreal," McPhie said after her first career win Thursday in moguls, which she followed with a runner-up finish Saturday.
McPhie held little hope of making the trip to Vancouver until two fourth-place World Cup finishes put her in the running late in 2009. Now, with two events remaining next week in Lake Placid, she’s a lock.
"There’ll be girls who are top 10 in the world who won’t be up there in Vancouver, so to feel like I’m going to be up there is unreal," she said.
Wilson is officially listed as a native of Butte, Mont., but grew up skiing in Deer Valley and counts the steep bumps of Champion as his home course.
"I’m psyched to go to the Olympics," he said, earning the nomination after a 15th-place finish because none of his teammates could surpass his season’s totals with a win. "It’s been a dream for so long. I wish I could have skied better tonight, but I’m going to the Olympics, so I’m happy."
Beginning with moguls qualifications Thursday afternoon, Parkites were out in full force on the lower Bald Eagle Mountain slopes, watching more than 300 athletes in the penultimate World Cup action before the Olympics.
With stops in Deer Valley for 11 consecutive years, even international competitors are starting to feel cozy in Utah.
"I love it here, everything’s perfect," said Australia’s Lydia Lassila after triumphing in women’s aerials Friday night. "I trained in Park City for a long time, so it feels like my second, third home these days. There’s a lot of familiar faces."
Canada’s Jennifer Heil shared similar sentiments, understandably, after tying with the McPhie for the win Thursday and standing on the top spot all alone Saturday.
"This is one of my favorite races on tour," Heil said. "Actually, I think it’s all the athletes’ favorite race. So well organized, the course is perfect, the crowd was amazing, I mean, it’s so much fun."
For Draper native Lacy Schnoor, who was seventh in freestyle while working on a new trick she’ll use in Vancouver, the fervent support might’ve even been too much of a good thing.
"I was trying to block them out as much as I can," Schnoor said after her jump. "Maybe next time, I’ll bring my iPod."
World Cup leader Anton Kushnir of Belarus won his fourth consecutive men’s aerials event on the White Owl course, while Jeret "Speedy" Peterson threw a crowd-pleasing "Hurricane" – his signature jump with 12 twists.
"I live and play here in Utah, right here in Park City," said the Turino Olympian, officially from Boise, Idaho. "This is my home town, and I love it up here."
Alas, it looked like he’d been hit by a tidal wave when his skis, poles and helmet were strewn all over the finish area.
"I don’t know what happened, I felt great, I saw the landing, and I just stepped right out of both my skis and ate a bunch of snow," he said before shouting his thanks to those in attendance.
France’s Guilbaut Colas showed just how comfortable he is in Deer Valley when he took second to Australia’s Dale Begg-Smith in Thursday’s final and won his third race at Deer Valley just over 48 hours later.
"This is the closest you are going to get to the Olympics unless you are going to Vancouver," Park City’s Brian Richards told the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. "You’re seeing world-class athletes competing at the highest level in a great environment."
Parkite Hailey Barndt agreed.
"It’s the one event where the whole town gets together," she said. "It’s a really fun crowd and we’re here to support all the skiers." USSA will annouce its U.S. Freestyle Olympic team (aerial, mogul and ski-cross) after the conclusion of next week’s events in Lake Placid, NY.
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