BARDONECCHIA, Italy (March 13) — Olympic bronze medalist and liver transplant survivor Chris Klug (Aspen, CO) battled from the 10th qualifying spot Sunday to finish third in parallel giant slalom at the World Cup Finals. It was Klug’s first podium on the year and came on the same course on which he qualified for the Salt Lake City Olympics.

“I couldn’t ask for anymore, it’s been a great last month for me — I’m so happy, said the U.S. Snowboarding rider, who has four top-10 World Cup finishes in the last month. “The last four or five races have been great for me. What a way to end it, I love this hill and I’m so stoked that this is the Olympic hill for 2006.

A rough road

The road to the top spot was nothing short of difficult for Klug. After handing ’01 World PGS champ Gilles Jaquet of Switzerland a .54 second loss in the first round, Klug ousted ’03 World Championship double medalist Simon Schoch of Switzerland before meeting World Cup leader and Bardonecchia winner Siegfried Grabner of Austria in the semi-final.

“I fought hard on my second run and made up a second on ‘Siggy,’ and he just ended up beating me by two tenths, said Klug. “I had a lot to make up — I made a mistake, just a little lack of balance coming into a heal side turn in the middle of the course and it shot it kind of shot me out of the course into the soft stuff. I fought as hard as I could, but he’s fast too. If I wouldn’t have made that little mistake I would have been able to get him.

But the work didn’t end there as Klug moved to the small final to race ’03 World PGS champ Dejan Kosir, where he handed the Slovenian a .47 second loss. But as Klug says, it came with a little help from U.S. coaches and teammates, who hung in the finish to cheer him through the finals.

A team effort

“My coaches have been hanging in there with me all season long — I didn’t have the greatest start to the season. Jeff Archibald, my coach and my teammates Adam (Smith) and Eric (Warren) always hung in there and we always worked together. They were down here cheering me on all the way to the podium today and that means a lot. It was definitely a team effort, said Klug.

The podium finish not only secured Klug his first World Cup top-3 on the season, but it also wrapped up the friendly inter team title that kept the fires going for the U.S. Snowboarding alpine squad all season. As Klug explains, the competition has been with teammates Eric Warren (Bennington, VT) and Adam Smith (Tangent, OR), who both had great starts to the season with Warren posting two quick top-10′s in the seasons first two races and Smith winning the Landgraaf indoor World Cup in the Netherlands.

“I’m stoked to win this one and get a podium for our team and for Jeff (Archibald) and for everybody, because he never stopped believing and we had a few ups and downs in the early part of the season and they all hung in there, but it’s a great way to end it, added Klug.

Klug: “I love it here”

Literally days before the gates where set to drop for the ’02 Winter Olympics, Klug threw down the hammer to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. He then went on to shock the European riders and wow the American fans with a bronze medal and his only international podium on the year, something he hopes to better in 2006.

“This hill has been real good to me — I love it here and I’m super excited about 2006, said Klug. “The snow is always good here and it’s like that Colorado or Utah hero super grip, the snow has good consistency and you can really carve the heck out of it — it’s similar to what I’m used to.

Also looking to take advantage of the familiar snow conditions in ’06 is fellow Colorado local Stacia Hookom (Edwards, CO), who posted the best American women’s finish with 10th, followed by team young gun Michelle Gorgone (Sudbury, MA) with 13th.

FIS SNOWBOARD WORLD CUP
World Cup Finals
Bardonecchia, ITA — March 14
Men’s Parallel Giant Slalom
1. Siegfried Grabner, Austria
2. Mathiieu Bozzetto, France
3. Chris Klug, Aspen, Colo.
4. Dejan Kosir, Slovenia
5. Simon Schoch, Switzerland

Women’s Parallel Giant Slalom
1. Daniela Meuli, Switzerland
2. Marioin Kreiner, Austria
3. Julie Pomagalski, France
4. Ursula Bruhin, Switzerland
5. Doresia Krings, Austria