Jackson, WY, Mar. 24 (AP by John Mossman)--U.S. Ski Team officials expect a banner week at the U.S. Alpine Ski Championships. Just three weeks ago, they wouldn't have predicted that.
Two World Cup victories by Daron Rahlves early this month and two more by Kristina Koznick have bolstered the morale of the American squad.
They will be joined by a handful of Canadians and assorted other competitors in the week-long event, which kicked off today with the men's and women's downhills.
Rahlves, 26, of Truckee, Calif., stunned the World Cup circuit with back-to-back downhill victories in Kvitfjell, Norway, on March 3-4. The wins represented Rahlves' first World Cup victories and the first in any World Cup discipline by a U.S. man since 1995. Rahlves' previous best result in downhill was 15th.
A week later, Koznick, 24, of Burnsville, Minn., captured a World Cup slalom in Sestriere, Italy, for her first victory of the season and third of her career. The following week, she triumphed again in Bormio, Italy, in the final World Cup race of the season.
``This should be a great week,'' said Alan Ashley, vice president of athletics for the U.S. Ski Team. ``We've had a terrific month, and this is a nice opportunity for these young kids to see what it takes to be a winner on the World Cup.
``Having these Canadian guys just ups the ante in the men's races.''
Chad Fleischer of Vail, Colo., the defending national champion in downhill, is recuperating from shoulder surgery in December. Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, is the two-time defending women's downhill titlist.
On Thursday, officials abandoned the usual downhill training runs in favor of FIS downhill races.
In the men's race, Canadians Darin McBeath and Kevin Wert finished 1-2 in 1 minute, 7.29 seconds and 1:07.31, respectively. Jakub Fiala of Breckenridge, Colo., was third in 1:07.47, followed by Casey Puckett of Crested Butte, Colo., in 1:08.07 and Rahlves in 1:08.16.
Clark won the women's race in 1:12.72. Lindsey Kildow of Vail, Colo., was second in 1:12.76, followed by April Mancuso of Tahoe City, Calif., in 1:13.11, Caroline Lalive of Steamboat Springs, Colo., in 1:13.45 and Molly Russell of East Burke, Vt., in 1:14.04.
In downhill training runs on Wednesday, Wert was fastest in 1:08.16. McBeath was second in 1:08.39, Fiala third in 1:08.82 and Rahlves fourth in 1:09.05.
Alison Powers of Winter Park, Colo., who placed 12th in a World Cup downhill in Switzerland on March 5, led the women's training run in 1:11.90. Kristen Bybee of Jackson, Wyo., was second in 1:13.34, and Kildow and Julia Mancuso of Tahoe City, Calif., tied for third in 1:13.56.
The nationals have a total purse of $52,500, with the winner of each race getting $3,000.
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