GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany Feb. 22, 2003 (USSA)--Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) didn't get the win he wanted Saturday in Garmisch, but his sixth podium of the season put him in the U.S. record books. Rahlves clinched second in the season-long World Cup standings with one race remaining, to record the best U.S. men's season-long World Cup downhill finish ever!
Austria's Stephan Eberharter survived a rugged downhill which claimed seven of the top 30 Saturday to win and clinch the World Cup downhill title in Garmisch. Rahlves, the pre-race favorite after dominating three days of downhill training, was third, 1.30 seconds behind Eberharter. Swiss Didier Cuche was second.
In typical fashion, the Garmisch course was long, watered-down icy, dark and bumpy. No one could touch Eberharter.
Rahlves in Distinguished Company
Only two American men have ever cracked the top-three in the grueling downhill battle. Bill Johnson finished third in 1984, and AJ Kitt was third in 1991. Rahlves' previous best finish was 10th in 2000 when he won the final two downhills in Kvitfjell, Norway -- the one remaining stop on the 2003 tour.
In order to battle for the season-long title coming into Garmisch, Rahlves needed a win and some help from Eberharter. He got neither. Despite an early mistake, Rahlves battled back through the mid-section of the Kandahar, but there was no touching Eberharter who added to his lead to clinch the title with just one downhill remaining at the World Cup Finals in Lillehammer.
The win was Eberharter's sixth of the year. It was also Rahlves' sixth downhill podium of the year with two wins, clinching second for the Hahnenkamm champion -- his best season-long finish ever! The Eberharter-Rahlves duo has now won eight of 10 men's downhills this season.
Mistake Takes Away Shot at Win
Rahlves, starting 30th, took himself out of title contention in the first section. "I made a really big mistake at the top," he said. "It was probably one of the toughest today especially after doing three training runs. I think Eberharter was smart to just do two training runs. On this kind of hill it tears you up pretty quick. I was fighting a lot at the bottom to just stay up and then the last turn was really hard. It was really dark, bumpy, hard, fast and slick.
"But to be on the podium is great," he added. "Although I knew I could win this one today. I was thinking about coming out here and skiing fast but after I made that one big mistake at the top I had to really push it hard and I used a lot of energy in the middle of the course trying to go super straight. I put everything I had in to that run and I'm satisfied with my effort but disappointed with my mistake."
"It's outstanding -- I'm proud of the boy," said U.S. Ski Team Head Downhill Coach John McBride. "Everyone realized he had an opportunity to win, but it would have been really hard to win today -- Eberharter would have had to have some trouble along the way, he skied like a stud and "D" skied well too."
It was an enjoyable week for Rahlves after the disappointment of World Championships. He left St. Moritz after the giant slalom to relax a few days in Austria, including a day in Kitzbuehel where local officials unveiled his Hahnenkamm champion gondola. But he came into Garmisch relaxed, and totally dominated training. "I had a fun week here," he said. "Every single run has been fun for me. That was the toughest one this week as far as fighting and struggling but every single day I've been pushing the limits and going at it. That's fun for me!"
Good Day, Bad Day
It was, more or less, a rugged day for the Americans. Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), starting 20th, waited over 10 minutes for fence repair after 18th-running World Champion Michael Walchofer went out. Sullivan overcame an early mistake to put himself into contention before going out on the bottom. Eberharter, starting 21st, simply blasted the pack to take a huge lead. Bode Miller (Franconia, NH), starting 27th, finished well off the pace in 28th. Jake Fiala (Breckenridge, CO) was 32nd.
"Good and bad day," added McBride. "A good day for Daron and for the rest of the boys, not great. They can do better for sure.
The U.S. Ski Team remained third in the Nation's Cup -- both overall and for the men -- behind Austria and Switzerland. Miller ended the day 105 points behind Eberharter in the overall race, with Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who finished 18th, gaining a little ground on Miller for second, but still 71 points back going into Sunday's super G.
Neither Miller nor Eberharter focused on the overall, saying time would tell. Eberharter was expected to build a slightly greater lead coming out of the two speed events in Garmisch, with Miller and Aamodt expected to challenge when the circuit swings to Korea and Japan in the next two weekends for a pair of GS's and slaloms.
Rahlves, meanwhile, will get a break for some relaxation and powder skiing with friends back at Sugar Bowl. Then it's on to Norway for the March 12-16 World Cup finals in Lillehammer.
FIS ALPINE WORLD CUP
Feb. 22, 2003
1. Stephan Eberharter, Austria, 1:55.68
2. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 1:56.75
3. Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, CA, 1:56.98
4. Peter Rzehak, Austria, 1:57.24
5. Gregor Sparovec, Slovenia, 1:57.28
Other U.S. Skiers
28. Bode Miller, Franconia, NH, 2:00.01
32. Jake Fiala, Breckenridge, CO, 2:00.57
Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), did not finish
FIS Alpine World Cup
Men's Overall Standings (7 races remaining)
Men's Downhill Standings (1 race remaining)