Rahlves clinches U.S.-best downhill season | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rahlves clinches U.S.-best downhill season

USSA Report

Swiss second placed Didier Cuche, left, Austrian winner Stephan

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany — The 2002-03 World Cup downhill season has been a trip of dreams for Truckee’s Daron Rahlves. With two wins, including a Hahnenkamm title, six podiums, a U.S. best-ever second in the downhill World Cup series standings 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, who was third in a downhill race here Saturday. “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.”

Austria’s Stephan Eberharter survived a rugged downhill, which claimed seven of the top 30, to win and clinch the World Cup downhill title in Garmisch. Rahlves, the prerace favorite after dominating three days of downhill training, was third, 1.30 seconds behind Eberharter. Swiss Didier Cuche was second.

“To be on the podium is great,” Rahlves said. “Although I knew I could win this one today, I was thinking about coming out here and skiing fast. 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.”

Rahlves has put together six podiums in 10 downhills — the most consistent season in history for a U.S. downhiller. And his second-place season finish in the downhill standings is unmatched by any other U.S. men’s downhiller.

“Second place is incredible,” Rahlves said. “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.”

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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,” Rahlves said. “Then when (Erik) Schlopy (second 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 end 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 December,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.,” Rahlves said.

On Sunday, Rahlves was the lone bright spot for the U.S. Ski Team again, finishing eighth in the World Cup super-G in Garmisch.

Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel picked up the win over Stephan Eberharter of Austria. Buechel won in 1:16.13, a .13 margin over Eberharter, who gained more ground in the overall World Cup lead. Rahlves was .49 back.

Buechel’s win put him just 40 points behind Swiss Didier Cuche, who was 14th, in the World Cup super-G battle, setting the stage for a showdown in Lillehammer in mid-March for the title. Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H., remains the top U.S. skier in super-G, standing eighth.

Eberharter padded his lead over Miller in the overall, now at 185 points going into two weekends of GS/slalom in Korea and Japan, where Miller should have the edge. Miller has 135 points on third-place Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who gained ground with his seventh-place finish Sunday.

Rahlves top-10 was his best super-G World Cup since finishing fourth in Kitzbuehel a year ago.

“Unfortuntately eighth place is my best finish in super-G this year,” Rahlves said. “It’s not where I’ve been hoping to get, especially here at Garmisch. I thought my skiing was right on. This could have been a really good day for me, but I blew a lot of speed at the top and was .7 back after that. I made up a lot of time after that on the bottom.

“Super-G every single race this whole season has been like that … I’ve been fast and then make a major mistake and it puts me way out.”

Marco Sullivan of Squaw Valley and Miller did not finish the race.

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