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U.S. Downhillers Ready for Val Gardena


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VAL GARDENA, Italy, Dec. 18 2003 — Daron Rahlves and Bryon Friedman established themselves among the skiers to beat following two days of official downhill training in Val Gardena. Action will shift to World Cup super G racing Friday before the classic Val Gardena downhill Saturday. Rahlves led Wednesday’s training run and was fourth Thursday. Friedman, meanwhile, turned some heads as he was fourth and second in his first time on the challenging Saslong course.

Friedman, who scored his first World Cup points with a pair of top-30 finishes in the Beaver Creek downhills, all of a sudden finds himself starting among the big boys by virtue of having the second fastest time in Thursday’s final training.

Saturday’s downhill is an important one for Rahlves to solidify his position in the World Cup downhill race. He presently stands third, just 27 points behind leader Michael Walchhofer of Austria.

“I really came here with no expectations besides skiing well,” said Rahlves, who has not cracked the top-10 in Val Gardena in the past. “But with the two training days it gives you a little more confidence to hang it all out. Winning at Beaver Creek definitely helped with the feeling on my skis and what I have now. It’s great to start the season out like this.

“It’s just nice to be a little more competitive up here. But so far it’s just training. Hopefully on race day I can stick it in there.”

Friedman, meanwhile, is taking it all in stride. “The course really suits my style because there’s some good steep sections rolling onto flats and I have a really good feeling carrying the speed off the steeps,” said the Park City native and Dartmouth College student. “I just feel comfortable here. Obviously I was more nervous yesterday because I had never been down it, but now I’m just taking a more calm approach, not making mistakes and going faster and faster.

“Today was better. Yesterday I had a really big mistake. Coming into the Ciaslat I took a wrong direction — I went left instead of right. Today it was perfect, I came in with good speed and kept everything going cleanly. I’m excited for where I’m starting, with the sun on the Ciaslat, which will be good.”

Saturday’s downhill is among the more challenging of the European classics, with finish times around 1:55 down the two-mile course with over a half-mile of vertical drop. Rahlves hopes to make the podium, which has eluded U.S. racers for over a decade. AJ Kitt was third in 1992. Mike Lafferty is the only other American on the podium, back in 1972.

Five Americans will start Friday’s super G. Jake Fiala will lead off in fifth, followed by Rahves in 12th and Bode Miller 23rd. Miller was top-15 in Thursday’s final downhill training. Other U.S. starters will include Thomas Vonn and Friedman.

“I’m looking to bring super G back on track. I’m feeling really good — I have good skis and have confidence,” said Rahlves. “I just have to keep my head on straight and not make any tactical mistakes. I have to go out there, relax, punch it and let the skis go.”

Saturday’s final downhill lineup will be determined Friday.

The super G is set to start at 12:15 p.m. local time (6:15 a.m. EST). The downhill is scheduled for the same time Sunday.