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Puckett takes men's Jeep King of the Mountan title; Rahlves third

Puckett takes men’s Jeep King of the Mountan title; Rahlves thirdSQUAW VALLEY, California – The scene from the snowboarding semifinals of the 2006 Jeep King of the Mountain Professional Skiing & Snowboarding World Championships must have looked very familiar to 2006 Winter Olympians Jasey Jay Anderson of Canada, Dieter Krassnig of Austria and Americans Graham Watanabe and Nate Holland. After all, the four had battled one another for a shot at Olympic glory and their countries’ pride two weeks earlier in Torino, Italy.

The ski roster was no less daunting, with Winter Olympian Daron Rahlves, who recently announced his retirement from Olympic competition, battling World Champion Tomas Kraus and former U.S. Olympians Casey Puckett and Jake Fiala.

At the end of the day, Watanabe, of Salt Lake City, Utah, captured the title of world professional champion in men’s snowboarding with Puckett, of Aspen, Colorado, bringing home the coveted honor in the men’s ski competition. On the women’s side, Winter Olympian Doresia Krings of Austria earned world professional c championship in snowboarding, with Ophelie David of France nabbing the top prize in the skiing competition.

In the men’s snowboard competition, Anderson, known as the Canadian Rocket for his 20-plus World Cup wins, earned the individual Squaw Valley event title with a victory over Krassnig in the Championship Heat. Anderson earned a spot in the finals by out dueling Winter Olympian Lukas Gruener of Austria, ranked second overall in the FIS snowboardcross standings, Watanabe a winner at the 2005 Valle Nevado World Cup and South American Cup. Krassnig, who has amassed 53 top-10 World Cup finishes in his career, reached the championship heat by defeating Guillaume Nantemod of Switzerland, a former FIS World Champion currently ranked fourth in the world, and Holland, of Squaw Valley, California. Watanabe ended up capturing third place at Squaw with a win over Holland in the consolation heat, but earned the season-long title based on points earned throughout the four-event series.

In the men’s ski competition, Puckett, a four-time Winter Olympian and 2004 Jeep King of the Mountain world professional champion, captured the individual event title and world professional champion honors by defeating long-time rival Kraus in the championship heat. Earlier in the day, Puckett had notched victories over Isidor Gruner of Austria, second overall in the 2005 FIS skier cross World Championships, and Fiala of Frisco, Colorado. Kraus reached the finals by topping TJ Lanning of Park City, Utah, a member of the U.S. Ski Team and Rahlves recognized as the most accomplished speed-event skier in U.S. history with ten wins and 21 overall World Cup podiums. Rahlves held on for third place by topping Fiala in the consolation heat.

In the women’s snowboard competition, Krings, a World Cup champion, captured the individual event title and world professional champion honors with a championship heat win over Winter Olympian Manuela Riegler of Austria, the 2005 FIS world champion. Krings outraced U.S. snowboard team member Marni Yamada of Seattle, Washington, and Claudia Riegler, a four-time World Cup champion, to earn a spot in the finals. Manuela Riegler reached the championship heat with wins against open qualifier Lynn Ott of Bend, Oregon, who placed second in the 2005 Grand Prix Boardercross, and Joanie Anderson of South Lake Tahoe, California, a member of the U.S. snowboard team. Anderson earned third place by defeating Claudia Riegler in the consolation heat.

In the women’s ski competition, David concluded in grand style what may be considered one of the finest seasons in Jeep King of the Mountain history. After wins earlier this season in Crested Butte, Colorado, and Sunshine Village, Banff, Canada, she continued her brilliance in Squaw Valley with a victory over defending Jeep King of the Mountain world professional champion and U.S. freeskiing champion Karin Huttary of Austria. David stormed past open qualifier Elyse Saugstad of Girdwood, Alaska, and Canadian national ski team member Anik Demers to reach the finals. Huttary was equally as effective, dismissing Jenny Owens of Australia and Brett Buckles of Hayden, Colorado, the 2005 Winter Gravity Games gold medalist, to reach the championship heat. Buckles claimed third place in the competition by topping Demers in the consolation heat.

The ski and snowboard racers competed Sunday for a $150,000 cash purse. Overall, the Jeep King of the Mountain Series offers the richest cash payout in snow racing, including $450,000 (U.S.) in prize money plus $20,000 (U.S.) in additional bonuses from John Paul Mitchell Systems. Adding to the allure of the event, this year the keys to four new 2006 Jeep Commanders were presented to the men’s and women’s ski and snowboard champions.

A national audience will be able to view the Jeep King of the Mountain Series race from Squaw Valley USA on March 25 from 1 – 2 p.m. EST on CBS Sports, and on nationally syndicated television across the U.S. between March 13 and April 2.

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