Juneau monoskier ready to go for the gold on Saturday and Sunday

Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- For the last few years, Joe Tompkins' dream has been to compete in the Winter Paralympic Games.

That dream will become reality this weekend, as the Juneau monoskier competes in the downhill race on Saturday and the Super G on Sunday. Tompkins is believed to be the first Alaskan to compete in the Paralympic Games.

The Paralympics run through March 16. Event highlights will be broadcast on cable television station A&E.

As the athletes arrived in Salt Lake this week, Tompkins said he could feel the excitement of a big event growing. He said there are 236 male skiers entered in the alpine events alone, and all of them were on the slopes during Tuesday's downhill training runs.

''I can feel it, especially when I'm wearing all this U.S. Ski Team swag,'' Tompkins said by phone Tuesday night from his hotel room in Ogden, Utah. ''When we got here they gave us our uniforms and we've gotten our pictures taken, so it's been hectic. I'm just soaking it all up. I'm not in a hurry for it to get over.''

Tompkins, 33, had his first training runs on the course on Tuesday, the same course used by Winter Olympics skiers last month. Tompkins didn't want to say how he did in the training run, which was timed. But he was feeling optimistic about his chances for strong performances this weekend.

''I did better than planned,'' said Tompkins, who was paralyzed below the waist by an auto accident when he was 20 years old. ''I did well. But I don't want to say what my time was. I don't want to jinx myself.''

In preparation for the Paralympics, Tompkins recently received a new monoski from his main sponsor since he started skiing, Suparna at Juneau Sports Fishing. The monoski Tompkins had been using was falling apart after three years of heavy use.

''This is more like a Cadillac than a Volkswagen, the ride's so smooth,'' he said.

Tompkins took the new monoski for a test ride last weekend at a series of Disabled World Cup races in Kimberley, British Columbia, where he competed in a giant slalom race and two Super Gs.

Even though he didn't go to Europe to compete in World Cup races earlier in the season, Tompkins' performances over the weekend moved him into 39th place among monoskiers in the Disabled World Cup overall standings.

Tompkins competes in the LW-11 class, which is one of the three divisions for monoskiers, usually athletes who have been paralyzed below the waist. The LW-10 division is for monoskiers with the least mobility and the LW-12 class is for those with the most mobility, while the LW-11 class is in the middle of the two.

In World Cup races the three divisions are grouped together, but in the Paralympics each monoski division competes on its own. Tompkins was sixth among LW-11 monoskiers in the giant slalom and first Super G, and was ninth in the second Super G at Kimberley.

Buoyed by his new monoski, his results from Kimberley and his training run time, Tompkins said he's feeling confident about this weekend. But whether or not he wins a medal, Tompkins said he plans to enjoy the moment, especially since his family, including 14-year-old son Donald and friends will be there to watch him compete.

''The dream is being here, to actually be good enough to be here,'' Tompkins said. ''It's just amazing. I'm just soaking in the moment.''

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