Bormio, Italy (Dec. 29) USST - Reigning world super G champion Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA), trying to play some intramural catch-up with teammate Bode Miller's latest performance, devoured an icy downhill run Sunday to collect the third World Cup victory of his career. Miller (Franconia, NH), meanwhile, closed-in on points leader Stephan Eberharter of Austria by finishing fifth.
It's the first time the U.S. Ski Team has had two men in the top five of a downhill since Aspen, CO, in March 1968 and only the second time in World Cup history. It's also the first time U.S. men have won back-to-back races since Miller won a giant slalom in Val d'Isere and then Madonna diCampiglio, Italy, the next night last season; and that was the first time U.S. men had won back-to-backs since...well, since Rahlves won two downhills in 24 hours, March 3-4, 2000 in Kvitfjell, Norway, on the 1994 Olympic speed run north of Lillehammer.
Rahlves, skiing 10th a day after rain wiped out the second and final training run on one of the tour's toughest downhills, finished in 2:01.42 with Austrians, led by Fritz Strobl in second (2:01.60), filling the next three spots.
Miller, who won a World Cup giant slalom last Sunday in Alta Badia, Italy, finished in 2:02.08. Eberharter, who won the first three downhills of the season before injuring a knee two weeks ago in Val d'Isere, France, failed to finish. After 14 races, Eberharter has 548 points and Miller, No. 2, has 478.
"Bode did it last week and he's been challenging me, so I had to step up and get it in gear," Rahlves said, smiling. He's the first non-Austrian to win a downhill in Bormio since Frenchman Luc Alphand in 1996.
"It feels good. It was a tough start to the week and I was really tired and all. I did a lot of extra lifting and playing ice hockey, but I got the energy back. Willi (Wiltz, team waxing technician) was right on top of it with the boards. This is probably the toughest race I've ever had, it was so bumpy all the way from the bottom up to the start.
RAHLVES: "I GAVE IT EVERYTHING..."
"It's a long course and was really tough to ski. I gave it everything I had, from the time I kicked out of the start to the finish line."
As he waited at the bottom, and the light got better for the top racers at the back of the first 30 starters, Rahlves - who dislocated his right hip last March while free-skiing in the Lake Tahoe area - told reporters he would have no regrets if someone overtook him "because I gave it everything I had...
"This is definitely one of the most challenging hills around. It's like the second-longest course there is; it's relentless, top to bottom. It doesn't give you a chance to rest at any time. You're either going over big jumps or little rolls or turns the whole way down.
"It's like skiing down a spiral staircase the whole way."
He said the strength training and hockey had him tired as he approached the first training run Friday, so he focused on finishing safely. A year ago in Bormio, Rahlves was sixth in one downhill, losing time at the bottom of the course, and 13th in the second of two DHs.
"This is definitely more my style of hill - a fighter's hill. You've got to fight on this hill to win it or be in there. The turns, the technical stuff, it's physically demanding and mentally demanding. I mean, you're kicking out of the start and it's straight down to that first turn. It's 'Game on!' from the start. You have zero time to back off anywhere...it's what I like most, so challenging right from the start.
"It was a big relief when Strobl came down and was right behind me. He was ahead of me to the last split, but I skied the bottom section really aggressively. I didn't give in to it at all. Some guys give in because they're tired, so it comes down to mind over matter at that point," Rahlves said.
GOOD COURSE FOR MILLER, TOO
Miller, who started two spots after Rahlvees in 12th, is skiing downhill for the first time on a regular basis. He even impressed himself with his performance, Miller conceded - but Rahlves' run jacked him up in the start.
"Yeah, I was pretty impressed," he said. "It's a good course for me. It's pretty turny and bumpy. I have problems on bumps but I can stay aggressive while a lot of guys get passive. I was fortunate: 'D' put down a great run. I charged maybe more than I would have, but I was psyched. I wanted to beat him."
The Saturday wipeout produced a different course than the soft-snow conditions racers found in their lone training run. "I was five seconds different - that's pretty drastic," Miller said, but he also was looking for his line down the hill in what would be his first DH in Bormio.
"There weren't any sections I was worried about and felt uncomfortable," he continued. Pretty much after inspection I was fired-up and was definitely gonna race and try to get in there. When Daron came down, though, everybody was yelling. I was all right, thinking, 'He put a good one down.' I liked that. I wanted to beat him."
Men's downhill/super G Head John McBride said, "The guys skied fantastic. Daron had a little bobble up top and got pushed a little wide on one spot at the bottom, but he was gunning it. He and Bode skied so well."
He added, "Getting (Saturday) rained out may've worked well for the guys because it gave them a day off, let 'em rest their legs. This is such a tough course and they could use that day off. The conditions were very different from our first training day (Friday); the snow wasn't boilerplate but it held up really well - it was rougher, more bumpy, but they did so well.
"Bode's a contender in any speed event now, too," the coach said. "Bode's a star. The guy's feel for line and timing is phenomenal. He's more balanced in speed events than I've ever seen him."
The only other time the U.S. Ski Team had two men in the top five of a World Cup downhill was March 15, 1968 in Aspen when Gerhard Nenning of Austria won by more than two seconds with Billy Kidd fourth, Dodge Phelps tied for fifth and Spider Sabich seventh.
The next men's races are a GS and slalom Jan. 4-5 in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
FIS ALPINE WORLD CUP RESULTS
Bormio, ITA - Dec. 29
1. Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, CA, 2:01.42
2. Fritz Strobl, Austria, 2:01.60
3. Hannes Trinkl, Austria, 2:01.66
4. Peter Rzehak, Austria, 2:01.85
5. Bode Miller, Franconia, NH, 2:02.08
DNF: Jake Fiala, Frisco, CO
WORLD CUP STANDINGS
Overall (14 races)
1. Stephan Eberharter, Austria, 548
2. Miller, 478
3. Didier Defago, Switzerland, 394
4. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway, 383
5. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 353
13. Rahlves, 205
38. Marco Sullivan, Squaw Valley, CA, 92
44T. Chip Knight, Stowe, VT, 76
51. Erik Schlopy, Park City, UT, 62
67T. Fiala, 29
74T. Thomas Vonn, Newburgh, NY, 24
87. Tom Rothrock, Cashmere, WA, 17
106T. Dane Spencer, Boise, ID, 9