Nichols gold, Stephens silver in sitting downhill

March 19, 2010, 1:09 a.m. (ET)

WHISTLER CREEKSIDE, B.C., Canada – The U.S. women’s Alpine team flew down the slopes in the sitting division of today’s downhill race, claiming gold and silver. Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M) picked up her second gold of the Games, while teammate, Laurie Stephens (Wenham, Mass.), won silver.


Nichols, who also won gold in Tuesday’s giant slalom race, won with a time of 1:23.31. Despite not feeling well, Stephens came in at 1:28.26 (+4.95) to claim the silver and Claudia Loesch of Austria won the bronze (1:29.89, +6.58).


“I love downhill,” said Nichols. “It’s my favorite event and I wanted to throw a solid run. I did what I came to do. It’s fulfilling and exciting for me to have executed it. Any athlete can relate to that – you want to do well, your personal best, and I did that today.”


A self-described “adrenaline junkie,” Nichols, like most of her U.S. teammates, loves the speed events. “I’m a little crazy. I think that’s what makes me a good speed skier. You have to be able to hold your upper body really strong and hold your position. It’s such an adrenaline rush,” she said.


Stephens is the defending gold medalist from Torino. “I definitely could have skied a little better,” Stephens said after the race. “The course is bumpy and I just didn’t have it today. I’m happy with the results and excited for my teammate.”


On Tuesday, Nichols became the first female U.S. Paralympian to win gold at both the summer and winter Games. She won gold with the women’s wheelchair basketball team in Beijing. She shared the podium on Tuesday with teammate, Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah), who won silver in the GS and came in 4th in today’s race.


“I'm really proud of Alana (Nichols) and Laurie (Stephens), it was a heartbreaker for Stephani (Victor) to miss out by just a little bit,” said Ray Watkins, the team’s head coach.


Today’s course conditions, shaped by the heavy rain on Tuesday, caused several crashes. Most were the victim of “hot air,” the largest jump towards the bottom of the course. Nichols crashed on the jump during her training run and, although she’s known for catching and loving big air, she knew she had to take it easy, ski tactfully and avoid the icy spots to win.


The three competing U.S. men, heavily favored to do well in today’s event, were among the victims of today’s crashes. Both Joe Tompkins (Juneau, Alaska) and Tyler Walker (Franconia, N.H.) fell towards the top of the course and did not finish, while Chris Devlin-Young (San Diego, Calif./ Campton, N.H.) fell near the finish line (off “hot air”) and recovered to finish the race, but not in enough time put himself in medal contention.


“The sitting men (race) was kind of a heartbreaker,” said Watkins. “Chris (Devlin-Young) was up at the split and leading. He was going all out and that's what we want our folks to do.”


“I knew what to do to win this race,” Devlin-Young said. “One mistake at 70 miles an hour and down you go. It was a smokin’ fast run. If anyone was watching the times, until I was down, there’s nobody that would have beat that run, period.” Visibly disappointed, Devlin-Young promised himself he’d make up for it in the days to come. “It’s heartbreak. I had the race. It was mine to win or lose.”


Christoph Kunz (Switzerland) won gold with a time of 1:18.19. Taiki Morii (Japan) won silver at 1:18.63 (+0.44) and Akira Kano (Japan) won bronze with a time of 1:19.19 (+1.00). Of the 28 competitors in today’s race, eight did not finish.


The U.S. men were not injured in their falls.


Races continue tomorrow, Friday March 19, with super-G.


Women’s Results:

1. Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M), 1:23.31

2. Laurie Stephens (Wenham, Mass.), 1:28.26 (+4.95)

3. Claudia Loesch (Austria), 1:29.89 (+6.58)


U.S. Athletes:

4.  Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah), 1:36.99 (+13.68)


Men’s Results:

1. Christoph Kunz (Switzerland), 1:18.19

2. Taiki Morii (Japan), 1:18.63 (+0.44)

3. Akira Kano (Japan), 1:19.19 (+1.00)


U.S. Athletes:

13. Chris Devlin-Young (San Diego, Calif./ Campton, N.H.), 1:22.65 (+4.46)

DNF Tyler Walker (Franconia, N.H.)

DNF Joe Tompkins (Juneau, Alaska)