Visually impaired alpine skiers have tough day in slalom races

March 14, 2010, 11:45 p.m. (ET)

WHISTLER CREEKSIDE, B.C., Canada - Mark Bathum (Seattle, Wash.), who is competing in his first Paralympic Winter Games at age 51, and his guide Slater Storey (Sun Valley, Idaho) finished 12th in today's slalom for visually impaired men with a combined time of 2:10.45 for their two runs.  

Bathum and Storey finished the first run in ninth place and were skiing well to start the second run. However, trying to make up time and climb up in the final standings, Bathum and Storey took some chances but nearly skied off course.

"Today was a rough day," said U.S. Paralympic Team coach Ray Watkins. "The course conditions were really variable and it was a rodeo ride the whole way down. You have to fight and that's what our team likes to do and we're going to come out and fight tomorrow, too."

 "We were trying to take it up and go 15, 20 percent faster and straighter," said Bathum. "Once you miss one, we got tangled in the flush, straddled it and had to go up. Once you do that it's a little tough to stay on your line and run a clean course after that. It was good fun though, just not the outcome we were hoping for."

Caitlin Sarubbi (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and guide Gwynn Watkins (Mt. Shasta, Calif.) headed into the women's second run in seventh place, but Sarubbi straddled a gate and they did not finish; while Danelle Umstead (Taos, N.M. / Park City, Utah), skiing behind her guide and husband Rob Umstead (Taos, N.M. / Park City, Utah), did not finish the first run after her tip caught a gate and forced her off course.

"It's kind of a bummer," said Sarubbi. "But Lindsey Vonn crashed in her slalom, so I guess that's a good sign, right?"

"My tip went into the gate and then my ski fell off," said Danelle Umstead. "Slalom's pretty hard for me. It's a lot of visual going on, but it's good. It was a good course. It was firm. It was fun. I was having a good time up until then. It's ski racing, it happens."

All three of the USA's visually impaired alpine athletes are competing in their first Paralympic Winter Games.

Slovakia's Jakob Krako and his guide Juraj Medera claimed gold with a combined time of 1:45.82; Spain's Jon Santacana Maiztegui and guide Miguel Galindo Garces were 1.09 behind with a combined time of 1:46.91 to claim silver; while bronze medalists Gianmaria Dal Maistro and his guide Tommaso Balasso from Italy finished at 1:48.32, trailing by 2.50 seconds.

Austria captured the women's visually impaired gold medal after Sabine Gasteiger and her guide Stefan Schoner posted a combined time of 2:00.56. Trailing by a slim 0.89 margin were silver medalists Viviane Forest and her guide Lindsay Debou of Canada with a combined time of 2:01.45; while Australia's Jessica Gallagher and guide Eric Bickerton trailed the lead by 3.79 seconds and posted a time of 2:04.35 for the bronze medal.

Skiing continues for the visually impaired athletes with the Giant Slalom scheduled for March 16. The Downhill is slated to be run March 18, Super-G on March 19, and the Super Combined will be held on March 21. (NOTE: All race schedules are subject to change due to the weather.)