O’Brien wins giant slalom title at US Alpine Championships

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (AP) Lindsey Vonn wasn’t there to compete, simply to film the giant slalom course and mingle with the next wave of up-and-coming skiers.

Well, here’s one to definitely keep an eye on: Teenager Nina O’Brien, who captured the GS title Thursday at the U.S. Alpine Championships against a field that included several World Cup veterans.

The 17-year-old O’Brien held on to her lead after the first run and finished the course at Sugarloaf resort in a combined time of 2 minutes, 22.30 seconds. Paula Moltzan was second, 0.37 seconds back, and Megan McJames took third.

”I was so nervous,” O’Brien said. ”I haven’t been in that position in a big race like this.”

She hardly showed any signs of nerves, though. Maybe a little near the end, when she said things got a little wild, but she quickly recovered.

”I tried to stay relaxed and have fun,” said O’Brien, who’s from Edwards, Colorado, and attends Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. ”I didn’t expect (the win) at all.”

Then again, she’s had some pretty impressive coaching in her young career. O’Brien grew up racing for the Squaw Valley Ski Team and worked with American skiing great Tamara McKinney, who won 18 times on the World Cup circuit.

O’Brien has yet to compete in a World Cup event or finish better than sixth in a Nor-Am Cup race, a minor-league system for younger skiers. She’s the second straight teenager to win at nationals, with 19-year-old Drew Duffy taking the men’s super-G crown the day before.

”I think today is a great example of an up-and-comer rising quickly,” U.S. Ski Team CEO Tiger Shaw said. ”Nina has had a great season and for her to win nationals caps it off perfectly. That she can be a national champion at that age is wonderful. It’s really, really, really fun to see.”

Moltzan was definitely pleased for her, giving her a huge hug in the finish area.

”I was hoping the best for her. She’s great,” said Moltzan, who’s from Lakeville, Minnesota. ”She’s such a cute little girl. She’s not so little anymore. She’s fast. Pretty excited for her.”

Vonn skipped the competition, but did serve as a forerunner before the race. She said she enjoyed visiting with the future faces of U.S. skiing.

”It’s nice to be back. I’m really here for the kids, all the junior racers,” said Vonn, who became the most decorated female ski racer in World Cup history this season. ”It’s not about competition, but more about meeting the next generation.”