Steamboat Springs It took Brett Buckles two years to become the top American skiercross racer.
On Sunday, the Steamboat Springs skier finished third in the Jeep King of the Mountain Pro--fessional Skiing and Snowboarding World Champ--ionships in Squaw Valley, Calif.
France's Ophelie David won gold, and Austria's Karin Huttary won silver.
"I just got into skiercross last year," Buckles said. "I just started doing these Jeeps this year. They try and keep it a strong, international field. They came to me and said, 'We are looking for an American woman. We would love for you to be an invited athlete.'"
Buckles, 24, is a graduate of The Lowell Whiteman School and a former Alpine ski racer, so learning to race skiercross was an adjustment.
"It's quite the jump. It's been a blast," she said. "It's almost like roller derby on skis with jumps, bank turns and rollers."
The Jeep King of the Mountain World Championships began with qualifying runs. Buckles posted the fourth-fastest time Saturday. She was paired against No. 5 seed Magdalena Iljans Johnson of Sweden in the quarterfinals.
Skiercross in the Jeep championships begins with a series of slalom gates before the racers converge at a Y-shaped start -- sometimes at the same time. Each race has two heats. The fastest combined time wins.
"Magdalena beat me at the 'Y,' and she cut me off so hard for the race line that I landed behind her on the jump, straddling her," Buckles said. "I went through the whole first turn straddling her. I was literally piggybacking her. I hope they caught that on TV."
Buckles said she could tell she was faster but had to wait to pass.
"There was a sharp left-hand turn that went into the finish jump, and I passed her right in the finish jump," Buckles said.
Buckles won the first heat in a photo finish, and Johnson won the second heat. Buckles' slim margin of victory in the first was enough to advance to the semifinals, where she lost to Huttary.
"She definitely was faster than me," Buckles said.
Buckles then defeated Canada's Anik Demers in the consolation race.
"I was second to her like three or four times," Buckles said. "Last year, she would beat me out of the starts. Starts are so much about experience, and her starts are just wicked. My starts are slow and not as good, but I beat her both times to the 'Y' and held her off both times for the bronze."
The Jeep King of the Mountain World Champ--ionships included competitions for men and snowboarders.
Jasey Jay Anderson, a 2006 Winter Olympian, won the men's snowboardcross title in Squaw Valley. Austria's Doresia Krings, also an Olympian, won the women's snowboardcross title. Aspen's Casey Puckett won the men's skiercross title.
Daron Rahlves, who had announced his retirement from Olympic competition and returned from Italy in time to race in California, was third.
A replay of the Jeep King of the Mountain Series race is at noon March 25 on CBS.
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