CARRABASSETT VALLEY — It wasn’t difficult to separate the youth forerunners from the special guest at Thursday’s U.S. Alpine Championships.

Four boys — Carrabassett Valley Academy students Devereux Thomas, Eli Pangburn, Nicholas Beliveau and Sean Sullivan — performed the duties prior to the women’s giant slalom. Nerves were apparent. There was a missed gate, maybe two.

Then came what was supposed to a ceremonial schuss down the course, one that ended with an eruption of loud applause from the throng of about 300 gathered around the finish area at Sugarloaf. 

To the naked eye, even three hours later, it would look like one of the fastest runs of the day.

World Cup downhill and super-G champion Lindsey Vonn was in the house.

Vonn, 30, completed her triumphant comeback season one week ago, winning eight World Cup races and her record-tying 18th and 19th championship globes after two reconstructions of her right knee.


Perhaps because she was not competing, Vonn appeared noticeably more relaxed than she did in her last appearance in Sugarloaf in 2008. That came only days after Vonn clinched the first of her four World Cup overall titles.

“You kind of grow as a person and grow in your skiing. That’s how I feel, at least,” Vonn said. “It’s nice to be back here at Sugarloaf. I’m really just here for the kids, all the junior racers. It’s not about the competition but being here for the next generation.”

By kids, Vonn referred to the likes of U18 standout Nina O’Brien, who sped to the biggest win of her budding career Thursday.

She could have meant, however, the dozens of elementary school students who took a day off from the classroom and followed Vonn’s every move as if she were the Pied Piper of Franklin County.

Vonn signed autographs and posed for countless selfies and group portraits after both of her runs. The mass of humanity grew so heavy that skiers making early run had to exercise patience and linger in the finishing corral until the foot traffic evaporated.

When asked if he had any advice for the children or young adults following in her ski tracks, Vonn cited persistence and faith.


“If anyone has watched my documentary, “The Climb,” they have a pretty good understanding that I had to sacrifice a lot and work very hard to get back to where I am now,” she said. ”In general, hard work pays off. Throughout my whole career, it’s always been the same. Fight every day, pray as hard as you can, and in the end you have to be happy and satisfied with whatever comes out of that.”

Third time’s a charm

Colby College skiers Jeanne Barthold and Mardi Haskell each were making their third appearance at the U.S. Championships on Thursday.

Each competed in the event when it was held at Winter Park, Colo., and Alyeska, Alaska. This time the two had a distinct advantage competing at Sugarloaf, where Colby often trains during the winter.

Haskell, a sophomore from Holderness, N.H., and an NCAA All-American in both slalom and giant slalom this winter, finished 14th in the national GS. That put her one spot ahead of super-G champion Alice McKennis.

“We never really get to race with the U.S. girls that much with the college circuit. It’s really cool to be racing with them,” Haskell said. “I think I used to put pressure on myself going into this meet, but now it’s just about having fun and going fast. It’s a whole new mindset.”


Barthold, a senior from Lyme, N.H., wound up 21st.

“It’s really fun to ski GS here. Today was awesome. The snow was way better than I expected,” Barthold said. “We like to go as fast we can and have a lot of fun. Getting here was what we wanted to do, show some Colby pride.”

The duo was joined by junior teammate Sierra Leavitt of Casco.

Family tradition

Francesca English’s name might go unnoticed at the championships.

At 17, English, of Squaw Valley, Calif., is one of the youngest competing skiers. She was disqualified in Wednesday’s super-G and did not finish her second run in the giant slalom Thursday.

If the genes count for anything, however, the name is worth remembering over the next few years.

English is the daughter of Tamara McKinney, a Kentucky native who captured the World Cup women’s overall title in 1983. McKinney was the only American woman to win it for a quarter-century, until Vonn broke through in 2008.

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