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GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Feb. 22) — The 2002-03 World Cup downhill season has been a trip of dreams for Daron Rahlves. With two wins, including a Hahnenkamm title, six podiums, a clinch on a U.S. best-ever second in the downhill World Cup, and his favorite course (Kvitfjell) yet to come, Rahlves has had an outstanding season. But in typical fashion, the California speed demon is soaking it in, but also looking for more.
“I’ve always dreamt of having a shot at winning the title in downhill and super G,” said Rahlves. “So one of my career goals came close. My biggest goal is to be the best downhiller and speed skier of all time in the U.S. — but also to be the best in the world! And that’s what I’m going to be shooting for next year.”
Rahlves has put together six podiums in 10 downhills, with one remaining — the most consistent season in history for a U.S. downhiller. And his second place finish is unmatched by any other U.S. men’s downhiller.
“Second place is incredible,” said Rahlves. “It’s the most consistent I’ve been any time in my career. That’s one things I’ve been striving for the last couple of years — to be consistent in every race and trying to be on the podium. Six podiums out of 10 is right where I’ve been aiming.”
While it’s not a World Cup title, it puts Rahlves into some rare company. No U.S. man since Phil Mahre in 1983 has won a World Cup discipline title. “I remember AJ (Kitt, 1992) getting third in the downhill standings and I’ve always thought that was the coolest thing ever,” added Rahlves. “Then when (Erik) Schlopy (2nd in GS in 2001) and (Bode) Miller being second in the slalom last year — to be top three in the world is pretty amazing. To do it throughout the season and enf up top three by the end of the year is a hugh accomplishment.
Long a strong speed skier, Rahlves’ biggest claim to fame coming into 2003 was his world championship in super G — a discipline in which he’s never podiumed in the World Cup! But his wins in Bormio and Kitzbuehel, along with his consistent podium finishes, have boosted him into the annals among the all-time best.
Johnson, who won the Olympic downhill in 1984, won three of 10 World Cups on the schedule that year, with another fourth his only other finish. He ended up third. Kitt, who blasted out of the gates to win in Val d’Isere in Dec., 1991, ended up with three podiums that year — including a second in Kitzbuehel — to finish third in the World Cup.
“It takes nothing away from what Billy Johnson and AJ Kitt have done but it feels good to be up there and with the top guys in the U.S.,” said Rahlves.
“It’s outstanding — I’m proud of the boy,” said first-year U.S. Ski Team Head Downhill Coach John McBride. “To take second in the title is above my expectations from the beginning of the year, so I am excited.”
Rahlves also reflected on the season which included winning his sport’s ‘Super Bowl’ with his Hahnenkamm title. “It compares in different way to Kitz,” he said. “Kitz is a huge highlight. It’s the one race — the one race to win in my eyes. It means the most, but it is just for the moment.
“To be always there throughout the season — and be competitive every single race and finish second in the world — that means a lot. I’m not a one race guy. Six times on the podium and I have another race to do it again. That’s what’s amazing to me. Ultimately the best guys in skiing are the ones that comeout every rance and are fast.
Ever the athlete to be calculating his next goal, Rahlves took a look at next year. “I have some work to do. There are some courses I don’t like. But that’s a big challenge for me now to work on and to be faster at those places next year. So I can be in the hunt and be in the lead.
“I want that red jersey,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “That’s the number one thing I want!”