O’Brien, Driller Win First Parallel U.S. Championship Titles
Different venue, and a totally different first-time championship event, but the same outcome for Nina O’Brien (San Francisco, Calif.) as she won her third-consecutive Toyota U.S. Alpine Championships title in parallel slalom at New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley Resort Saturday.
Fresh off her super-G and alpine combined titles earlier this week at Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain, O’Brien was hot from the start in Saturday’s race, posting the second-fastest qualifying time, and then easily moving through the opening rounds and into the semifinals and finals where she defeated Canada’s Stephanie Currie for the victory.
“I’ve had a few good ones lately,” she said referring to her past few days of racing. “I’ve actually never won a parallel before, so this was a good day for me. Certainly a long day, but I think it was fun for everyone racing and watching.”
Currie, who also competes for nearby Dartmouth College, settled for second as Alice Merryweather, who won the U.S. Championships downhill title on Tuesday, rounded out the podium in third.
On the men’s side, World Pro Ski Tour experience proved to be the deciding factor as the top three all recently competed in pro events that featured the parallel slalom format.
“The World Pro Tour definitely gave a little added experience, knowing how to come out of the start gate, and how scary it is to have someone right next to you going down the course,” noted winner Garrett Driller (Tahoe City, Calif.).
Driller, who won his first U.S. title, qualified third and advanced through the event to face off against Tucker Marshall (Pittsfield, Vt.) in the finals. However, Marshall injured his back two gates from the finish in his semi-final victory and was unable to start the finals.
“We have matched up a couple of times on the Pro Tour, and we have gone back and forth in winning runs,” Driller said. “He was really hoping to get in there on the finals with me. He made it there, but his back went out and it was a bummer that he didn’t get to do the final race against me.”
“The day started out really good,” said Marshall, who qualified 11th. “I was feeling really good on my skis...but about two gates from the finish (in his semifinal run against Alex Leever), I slide into a rut and compressed my back...and kind of limped into the finish and into the final,” said Marshall said, who sat out the first run of the finals, but did attempt to start the second to no avail as the pain was too great.
Lever (Vail, Colo.) defeated recently crowned U.S. alpine combined champion Luke Winters (Gresham, Ore.) for third.
The parallel slalom format has proven a huge success on the FIS World Cup with city events in Sweden, Norway, and Russia over the past few seasons. Introduced to the U.S. Alpine Championships program this year, the athletes and the fans embraced the head-to-head format that filled the day with aggressive racing.
“I love this format,” Marshall said. “It’s making a comeback...with younger generations getting into it. There are more races. We had one NorAm this year where I was on the podium again, so I like the event and I can only imagine it’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
Up next, the men and women compete in slalom Sunday at Waterville where O’Brien is the defending champion and will be shooting for her seventh career U.S. title to continue her outstanding season where she also won the overall NorAm, slalom, giant slalom and super-G titles.
“I feel like I’ve found some consistency in my skiing this year, and I was happy to see that show up in my speed races as well,” O’Brien said. “So I’m hoping to close off the season here in Waterville on another good note.”