By GEORGE SMITH; Times Leader Outdoors Editor
Friday, February 11, 1994 Page: 1B QUICK WORDS: BURNS GRABS DOWNHILL GOLD
SCRANTON — Martin Burns glided to an overall victory by a four-second margin Thursday in the downhill, the first alpine ski race of the Keystone State Games Winter Sports Festival.
The seventh-annual Keystone State Games Winter Sports Festival got under way Thursday at Montage Mountain.
The alpine ski racing events will continue through Sunday at Montage, and will be followed by three days of figure skating competitions set to run Feb. 18 through 20, at the Ice-A-Rama in Wilkes-Barre.
Burns, from Wyalusing, sizzled down the mile-long course in 1:12.54 to beat out 41 other racers for the fastest time and win a gold medal in his 30-34 age category.
“It was a good day. I went as fast I as could. There are three guys that I race with, and they really pushed me. I wanted to win,” said Burns, 32.
Burns said he prepared for the downhill — alpine ski racing’s most dangerous and glamorous event — by racing.
“I go to a ski race just about every weekend,” he said. “I usually compete in the ASRA (American Ski Racing Association) events as well as the New York State Masters. I race in anything, just to keep occupied.”
Burns said it was his fifth year of competition at the Winter Games.
“I medaled every year I finished, but there was a two-year streak where I did not finish,” he said with a smile. “This year, it was a course for a glider. Absolutely. That’s one of the reason’s I did well.”
Burns said he expects to compete in today’s giant slalom.
Tad Van Zoeren, from Woodbury, N.J., posted the second-fastest overall time, but he did not receive a medal because he is not a Pennsylvania resident.
Tom Mitchell, from Wilkes-Barre, is no stranger to the Keystone Winter Games. He said he has competed for the last four or five years and has won a gold medal every year.
This year he got off to a good start. Mitchell captured the gold medal in Thursday’s downhill in the 35-39 category.
“It was an excellent race, very well set,” said Mitchell, whose family business is the Bear Creek Ski Shack. “The snow was beautiful, but I had one bad turn and that cost me.
“The snow was really smooth, and we probably reached a top speed of about 60 mph,” added Mitchell, who expects to compete in every skiing event at the Games.
Maria Rogan, from Waverly, was one of only two women to compete in the downhill.
The 17-year-old Scranton Prep junior received a gold medal for her efforts.
“I’ve been competing in the Games since they started, but this is my first downhill,” said Rogan, who has been a ski instructor at Montage for two years. “The race went really well, but it was a tough course. I trained hard for it.”
Rogan said she lifted weights, played tennis and used karate exercises to get in shape for the mile-long, thigh-burning run.
“The speed didn’t bother me at all. I felt free. I entered the downhill because it’s a lot more exciting than the technical events. It’s a long run, and there’s a lot more slope to cover,” she said.
The other female finisher was Holly Zecker, from Norristown, who medaled in her 35-39 division.
Rolf Mair, from Oley, was the third-fastest overall finisher and received the gold medal in the 20-24 division. He said the course was challenging.
“It was smooth, nice, and flowing. But if you didn’t pre-jump, you could definitely get big air off the headwalls,” Mair said.
The downhill was held without incident or injury.
“We required all the racers to wear helmets, and this was an event for elite skiers, not beginners,” said Jim Vorozilchak, the assistant director of ski improvement at Montage. “Everything went very well. There was only one crash, and that was after the skier crossed the finish line.”
While the Festival’s skiing events started Thursday, the official opening ceremonies will be held 7 p.m. today at the Montage base lodge.
The ceremonies will include music, fireworks, a torch parade down the mountain and the lighting of the Festival’s Olympic-style torch.
Additional alpine skiing events include an elite giant slalom set for 11 a.m. today, a modified giant slalom and a modified giant slalom for snowboards Saturday at 9:30 a.m., and a dual slalom Sunday set to begin at 9 a.m..
A freestyle mogul event will be held Saturday at 9:30 a.m., and a freestyle ballet event is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.
The following list includes medalists in Thursday’s downhill at Montage.
1. Jacob Penchansky, Lancaster.
2. Tim Proctor, Carbondale
3. John Owens, Nanticoke.
1. Charles Minnucci, Doylestown
2. Phillip Latinski, Wilkes-Barre
1. Rolf Mair, Oley
1. Martin Burns, Wyalusing
2. David Flack, Doylestown
3. Steve Schneider, Allentown
1. Tom Mitchell, Wilkes-Barre
2. Curtis Schramm, Williamsport
3. Robert Leiser, Nazareth
1. David Demko, Reading
2. William Ayres, Levittown
3. Michael Borchelt, Boyertown
Age 45 & over
1. Neal Weissman, King of Prussia
2. Owen Curran, Broomall
3. Bill Battles, Gulph Mills
1. Maria Rogan, Waverly
1. Holly Zecker, Norristown
TIMES LEADER/CARA MENICHELLI
Joseph Kopeck, from Pittston Township, plummets down the downhill course Thursday at Montage in the opening alpine ski race of the Keystone State Games Winter Sports Festival. Kopeck was competing in the 35-39 age division.