Mahre's quest to qualify

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— Former Olympic slalom champion Phil Mahre may not grasp things like text messaging or iPods, but he understands ski racing.

So when he arrived in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in January for an entry-level race, the U.S. skiing legend admitted feeling out of place.

"I don't fit in," Mahre said. "Most of the kids I'm racing weren't even born when I won my medals. When I showed up to my first race this year, all of the other competitors where hanging out listening to iPods before their start. I don't even own an iPod."

What Mahre, who will turn 50 in May, does own is one of the most celebrated careers in American ski racing history.

His 27 World Cup victories (nine slalom, seven giant slalom and 11 combined) still rank No. 1 all-time among American skiers. He captured overall World Cup titles in 1981, 1982 and 1983. He won the silver medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and added the gold medal in the slalom at 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But all of that is in the past, and Mahre realizes a lot of things have changed in ski racing. He's doing his best to play catch-up.

This week, Mahre will pass through Steamboat Springs as he pursues his most recent quest - to qualify for the U.S. Alpine Championships next year.

To do so, he has been making appearances in lower-level FIS points races, including two in Steamboat.

"It's been a while since I raced in Steamboat Springs, and I don't know that I've ever raced on this particular hill," Mahre said from his home in Yakima, Wash. "It should be a lot of fun."

Mahre will be among the field of rising stars when the men take to the giant slalom course at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. He also plans to race Friday.

"He's only going to be in the giant slalom races, so if you want to see him race you need to get out there on Thursday or Friday," said Chris Puckett, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Alpine program director.

Puckett said the field will include about 100 men and 60 women and should provide a great racing opportunity for about 40 local racers.

The races are part of the Rocky Mountain Trophy Series, which will come to a close with the spring series the second week of April.

The trophy series usually is a chance for young racers to earn enough points to take their skiing careers to the next level. In Mahre's case, the races really are about earning a second chance to do what he loves.

Mahre said he doesn't think of this as a comeback, and he admits the chances of him earning a World Cup start or another shot at Olympic glory are slim. He simply wants to earn enough points in places like Steamboat to have a shot at going to the national championships one more time.

"I think it will be fun for a lot of people to get up on that course and watch at the knoll," Puckett said. "Everybody wants to see if Phil Mahre can become the first 50-year-old to qualify for nationals. What a great story that would be."

Mahre views his effort to get back to nationals differently than Bill Johnson's disastrous comeback bid a few years ago.

"Billy and I are two totally different situations," Mahre said. "He had fallen on hard times and needed ski racing to turn his life around. I don't have to do this, but it's a goal I think I can achieve."

Mahre also has been careful not to use his position in the skiing community to make getting to nationals any easier. He doesn't want to qualify for the event unless he can prove he deserves to be there.

"Everybody has been so supportive," Mahre said. "Things have been going very well, and I've had my moments. Now I just have to get a little more consistent."

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