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Kurka, Stassel climb World Cup podiums in Austria

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: January 14, 2017
  • Published January 14, 2017

Two of Alaska's winter wonders found their way to World Cup podiums Saturday in Austria.

Sit-skier Andrew Kurka of Palmer collected three medals in three races in Innerkrems, and snowboarder Ryan Stassel of Anchorage grabbed second-place in the first slopestyle competition of the season in Kreischberg.

Meanwhile, Anchorage's Kikkan Randall continued her post-pregnancy comeback by making it to the semifinals of a World Cup freestyle sprint race in Toblach, Italy. She placed 10th after colliding with teammate Sophie Caldwell in the semifinals.

Kurka and Stassel are 2014 Winter Olympians who are vying for spots in next year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. If this weekend is any indication, they're both on the right path.

Kurka, 24, is red-hot right now. He collected a full set of medals — gold, silver and bronze — during the season-opening speed events at Innerkrems Ski Resort.

Kurka claimed third place Saturday in the super-G after winning gold and silver in a pair of downhill races Thursday. He was the only sit-skier to make the podium in all three races.

The races attracted some of the sport's best. Sharing the podium with Kurka on Saturday were first-place Christoph Kunz, a three-time Paralympic medalist from Switzerland, and second-place Corey Peters, a three-time World Championship medalist from Canada.

Stassel, 24, is also riding a hot streak.

The defending world champion in slopestyle snowboarding, Stassel made the podium for the fourth time this season. The first three came in big air, an event that will make its Olympic debut next year.

Stassel entered Saturday's finals as one of the top qualifiers. He led after the first two runs but dropped into second place when Norway's Mons Roysland turned in the day's best performance on the third and final run.

Stassel's second-run score of 83.30 earned him the silver medal behind Roysland, who scored 8.25. With the result, Stassel seized the World Cup overall lead in freestyle snowboarding.

In Italy, Randall was part of a strong day for the U.S. Ski Team. Leading the way was Simi Hamilton, who lost the men's final by a boot tip — Norway's Sindre Bjoernestad Skar beat him in a photo-finish.

Three women made it to the semifinals — Randall, Caldwell and Ida Sargent — but none advanced to the finals.

A crash took out Randall and Caldwell in their semifinal heat. Caldwell was rounding a turn on a downhill when Randall, who was running right behind her, collided with her.

"Our skis were incredibly fast today and that was actually a little bit of the problem," Randall said by email. "When our pack came down the hill that first time in the semi, everyone came together into the corner. The other girls went right so I could really only take the inside. I came up on Sophie faster than expected and tried to sneak by on the inside. But there wasn't much space and I think I may have knocked her boot with my ski.

"I feel really bad because I think I caused the crash. It was a real bummer because both of us were feeling good and ready to mix it up. But luckily we are both okay and there was no broken bodies or equipment."

Randall, a four-time Olympian and three-time World Cup sprint champion, has yet to make it to the finals in a sprint race this season. She took last season off to have a baby, and said she is learning to be patient in her return to world-class competition.

"I had such a solid summer and fall of training that I actually expected myself to be right in the mix when the season started," she said. "But when the racing started, I began to realize that this comeback was going to take some time. I didn't expect the patience and time it would take to get the racing gears back after taking a full year away from that kind of effort. Each race I do I am feeling a little closer to my normal sprint form."