National Ability Center athletes earn multiple medals at Winter Park
Athletes from the National Ability Center Paralympic alpine skiing development team took several top positions at the World Para Alpine Ski competition in Winter Park, Colorado, on Jan. 4, which was no surprise to coach Erik Leirfallom.
“I always have the expectation that each race we go to, these guys are going to do a little bit better, and so the big surprise would have been if they didn’t,” he said. “We’ve been working hard, it paid off, and they did better than they did before.”
Madison Baumann took first in both women’s B3 Super G events and both women’s B3 giant slalom races.
Anna Beninati took silver in both women’s sitting Super G races and both women’s sitting giant slalom races.
Santiago Vega took silver in the men’s standing giant slalom and bronze in both men’s standing Super G races and a standing giant slalom race.
At 14 years old, Park City native Saylor O’Brien took bronze in the women’s sitting Super G and both women’s sitting giant slalom events.
Leirfallom said the team worked hard to prepare for the season, despite uncooperative weather, which meant more than a few days working on technique instead of racing.
The team has made do with the terrain available, which sometimes presents its own challenges.
“We just have to do what we can,” O’Brien said. “Whether it’s training in rain or people we have to dodge.”
“A lot of crowd dodging,” Leirfallom added. “Christmas was crazy.”
The less-than-ideal conditions followed the team to Winter Park, where athlete Andrew Haraghey said the course was shortened during the first day or two then opened up for a full run during the second half of the tournament, when he said conditions improved and allowed for good competitive runs.
Vega, who competes in the same events as Haraghey, concurred.
“We ran all the way from the top of the hill and the snow was perfect — it was bulletproof — it turned out to be a nice hard surface,” he said.
After collecting several medals, Vega and the NAC team will turn their attention to the NAC’s Huntsman Cup, scheduled for Feb. 7-10 at Park City Mountain Resort, which will consist of two days of giant slalom and two days of slalom racing. Because the Huntsman is sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee of Alpine Skiing, racers will have a chance to earn points toward qualifying for top-level international competitions, like the World Cup Finals, scheduled for February in Canada.
For athletes like Vega and Haraghey, it’s the last big target of the season and a narrow opportunity to make the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang this March.
“World Cup is a whole other level,” Vega said.
He was on the World Cup circuit a few years ago, before starting college at the University of Utah.
“Sometimes you do OK, sometimes it’s just a big old spoon of humble syrup,” he said. “That’s OK; that’s part of the sport.”
This week, the athletes will get their first chance to ski through gates on their home course, Leirfallom said.
And with the Huntsman event coming up, full-course training couldn’t come any sooner.
As Vega knows, time seems to fly when you’re skiing.
“It’s just 59 days to the (Paralympics),” he said. “Those four years went by quick. It feels like Sochi was just like last week and now we’re less than two months from Korea. You’re not going to get any better, but just make sure you’re skiing strong, skiing clean, make sure your mental game is strong.”
That way, the only surprises are the good ones.
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