SARANAC LAKE - In March, Cecily Decker proved that she was the top girls giant slalom racer under the age of 16 in the eastern United States. On Monday, she proved she was the best in the entire country.
The Saranac Lake skier topped the field in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association's Junior national championships at the Park City Mountain Resort in Utah with a combined time of 2:04:58 in two heats. Her times of 1:01.46 and 1:03:12 were both the fastest of their heats, and her combined time was nearly three seconds ahead of the closest competitor.
Alix Wilkinson of the Park City Ski Team was the next-fastest racer of the day, finishing in 2:07.38. She was actually an under-14 division racer. Nellie-Rose Talbot, of the Ski and Snowboard Club of Vail, Colo., was third overall and second in the U16 class with a time of 2:08.05.
Saranac Lake ski racer Cecily Decker stands atop the podium after winning the giant slalom race Monday during the Junior national championships held at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah. To the left is bronze medal winner Alix Wilkinson of the Park City Ski Team, with silver medalist Nellie Rose Talbot of the Ski and Snowboard Club of Vail, Colo., on the right.
(Photo — David Smith)
Decker's gold medal came one day after she finished fourth in the slalom race. She had a combined time of 1:30:30, just missing out on a bronze medal in that race. Ellie Curtis, of Green Mountain Valley School ski club in Vermont, was third in 1:30:22. First went to Storm Klomhaus, who attends the U.S. Team Academy in Park City. She finished in 1:28.66.
In March, Decker won two golds and two silvers at the Eastern Championships at Whiteface Mountain. She also won the giant slalom by about three seconds. Those results earned her an invitation to the national championships.
"It seems like all the hard work I've been doing finally paid off," Decker told the Enterprise in a phone interview Tuesday evening.
The 15-year-oid skier is part of the New York Ski Educational Foundation at Whiteface Mountain. She has always been a talented skier, but she's battled back injuries in recent years that have held her back at times. This past year she dedicated herself to doing more training in the offseason, which has helped her immensely during the ski season. It helped keep her injury free and was instrumental in her taking a step to the next level in competitive ski racing.
"It's a big accomplishment for Cecily," said NYSEF U14 alpine ski coach Jimbo Johnston. "Any kid at this age group to make it to the national championship is big, but to win it is huge. Not only for her, but for the program. By the margin that she won, almost three seconds, 2.8 seconds she won by, is a pretty substantial margin, so she proved herself to be the top racer in the country in the giant slalom.
"It's a big deal. It puts her on the radar screen for U.S. Ski Team. It's one of the reasons they have the event out in Park City, so the coaches, U.S. Ski Team coaches, can kind of assess the talent pool out there for the U14 and U16 age group."
In addition to the slalom and giant slalom races, skiers will compete in a parallel slalom competition. The race was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed because of a snowstorm.
"It's kind of an unusual thing," Decker said. "No one's really done it before unless they've been here before."
Decker said skiers will race on a slalom course with giant slalom gates. There will be two identical courses next to each other, with racers competing head-to-head. Those who win remain in the race until there is one person left.
In addition to the parallel slalom competition, skiers will be competing in a SkillQuest competition organized by U.S. Ski Team coaches. The coaches will use the drills to evaluate the skiers. Decker, who arrived last Wednesday, expects to be in Park City another week.
So far, Decker said the ski races have been difficult because of the conditions. The area received heavy wet snow and rain over the weekend.
"The course was really rough," she said. "I knew right after I inspected the course that it would be a challenge, and my coach helped me a lot, giving me advice."
David Smith, U16 coach with NYSEF, joined Decker at the event.
"I knew she could be competitive, especially when I saw the hill," Smith said by phone Tuesday. "The hill sort of suited her pretty well, but I wouldn't say that I knew she would win. I knew that she would be competitive and had a shot at doing it. But to win the by the margin she did was pretty impressive."
Decker's father Bill Decker of Saranac Lake is also in Park City, Utah, watching the events. He gave a lot of credit to the NYSEF program for getting his daughter to where she is today.
"We're very grateful and appreciative to NYSEF," Bill Decker said. "Each of those coaches that have been her coaches over the years, they all share a little piece of that victory. That's how they feel about it, I'm sure, and that's how we feel about it. They're an awesome group of people."