Megan McJames stood at the base of Superstar trail, eyes glued to the big screen at the finish of the first run. “I’m so nervous I can’t even talk right now,” she said. At the top of the list on the screen was Viktoria Rebensburg, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom, with a time of 58.39. Just below her, in second was America’s darling Mikaela Shiffrin. Shiffrin had drawn screams from the crowd as she crested Preston’s Pitch, moving from sunshine into darkness and streaked down the last, steep pitch of the course.
“Three days ago I would have told you I could win the GS,” Shiffrin had said the night before at the press conference. “But the conditions here are so different from Colorado.” That hadn’t stopped Shiffrin from building speed on the second part of the course, so much so she moved into second just 0.26 seconds behind Rebensburg and 0.31 seconds ahead of the oldest racer in the line-up, Italy’s Manuela Moelgg. The other top contenders, Switzerland’s Lara Gut, last year’s GS World Cup winner Tessa Worley of France, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova (who won the first World Cup slalom event of the season) were in the top 10 but back in the pack.
But for McJames, who grew up racing in Park City, there was only one number on the screen she was focused on: Number 28. She had started 33rd of 65 and was in 28th after the first run. In order to qualify for the second run, she’d need to stay in the top 30 and there was still more than half the field to race.
“For those who don’t normally finish in the front half, this first run is an all-or-nothing race” says Marina Knight, with the T2 Foundation, which helps develop up and comers on the U.S. Team. “For them it’s almost a bigger race and there’s a huge, huge consequence between finishing 25th and 31st. That’s why you see so many of the girls in the back really charging. ”
As the rest of the field blasted down, the “all or nothing” approach began to take it’s toll. Tricia Mangan, a Dartmouth student who is now competing on the World Cup circuit, skied all out and then suffered a spectacular crash, cartwheeling, legs akimbo, down the slick course. Several others wiped out as well. Two skiers skied fast enough to move McJames down to 30th. She stood rigid, with teammate Nina O’Brien, watching as the last few racers sped down. One of the top contenders for the U.S., Resi Stiegler had drawn the last start position, 65th. By then the course had rutted up and Stieger’s time was not strong enough to bump McJames, 30, a veteran who competed in the 2010 Olympics and has been on and off the World Cup since. She was in. Megan McJames and Mikaela Shiffrin would be the only two American women to advance to the second race of the GS event and because of the reverse order, this afternoon McJames will ski first.
“It’s really nice to be here,” said McJames, who could finally breathe. “My boyfriend, Cody Marshall is from Pittsfield so he really helped me understand the hill and the course.
For Stiegler, who raced here last year, today’s race was a night and day difference. “Even though I did better last year, the course was so rutted I thought I was going to die going down it,” she said at the finish. “This time, they did a great job on really laying down a hard, hard surface but it was still grippy even by the time I raced. The light also got better as well as the race went on.” Early on the day, the top half had been blazingly sunny while the bottom, steep part was in dark shadows.
At 1 pm the second run started with McJames running first and finishing in 2:01:75, nearly a minute slower than leader Viktoria Rebensburg’s first run.
Photo: US Ski Team’s Nina O’Brian and Megan McJames. Photo by Lisa Lynn