Daron Rahlves captures consecutive World Cup wins in Norway
Once is remarkable, twice, well, that’s one of the best performances in United States’ history.
Daron Rahlves, a member of the US Ski Team from Truckee, traveled this weekend to Kvitrjell, Norway – to the 1994 Olympic downhill and super G course outside of Lillehammer – and, in less than a 24-hour period, recorded back-to-back World Cup downhill skiing wins, a feat not accomplished by a US skier in any event for 16 years.
“I feel like what I’ve always wanted to feel in the World Cup and that’s being a contender to win the big races,” Rahlves said. “It made my life. It’s the most exciting thing ever that’s happened to me.”
Rahlves attributes the triumphs, in large part, to a week-long reprieve from competitive skiing, when he had a chance to come home following the Goodwill Games (held three weeks ago at Lake Placid). During the visit, Rahlves relaxed and renewed his “love of skiing.”
“It was a long road in Europe to the Goodwill Games. When I came home, I was drained, I wasn’t having a lot of fun,” Rahlves said. “I was getting solid results, but nothing near what I wanted. It’s tough when you have expectations and you’re not where you want to be.
“I went home for a week and it was nice to relax and just ski … I skied with Jonny Moseley and Shane McConkey (and met up with the Gaffney brothers late in the day) … and we went out all day from 8:30 – 3 – the best day ever of powder skiing for me. It was a perfect day to ski and I kept running into all these people I know. It’s part of what I love about living in Tahoe. I’d be like, ‘Weren’t you supposed to work today,’ and they’d say, ‘Yeah, but I couldn’t pass a day like this up.’ It’s the mentality there. It brought out the fun in skiing I hadn’t felt in a while …’
The skiers went to Headwall and K-22 at Squaw Valley. McConkey describes Rahlves as “one of the best freeskiers [he’s] seen.” “He wouldn’t pick a line, that’s not what he’s used to,” McConkey said, “but he’d follow ours and stick everything.”
” … I just decided to take that flow and put it into my racing,” Rahlves said. “When I’m relaxed, I race my best.”
Rahlves’ DH-1 victory on Friday, March 3, marked the first time a US skier has won a World Cup competition since Kyle Rasmussen won on the same hill in 1995. Rahlves, after a three-hour delay, finished with a time of 1:28.69 on a course that’s beginning was dropped about 200 meters to the Olympic combined downhill start due to windy and snowy conditions. His time eclipsed the second place finisher, Swiss racer Didier Cuche who’s ranked ninth in the overall standings, by .09 second. Hermann Maier of Austria, the World Cup overall and DH leader – who with the last race of the weekend (the super G held on Sunday) broke the overall points record for a season with 1,760 – came in third place with a time of 1:28.95.
“Daron skied really, really super,” U.S. Head Coach Bill Egan said. “It was very difficult today, very difficult conditions – very windy and, really, it was kind of dangerous at times. I’ll tell you though, the whole field sucked it up and skied well. But Daron – I’m so proud of him. He’s worked so hard, so tenaciously, and he had the opportunity today and he didn’t back down.”
Rahlves was mobbed after the win. After media conferences, dinner and more media conferences, Rahlves was unable to fall asleep and began making phone calls to all his friends and family in the states.
“There were so many people behind me trying to help me believe that it was just around the corner,” Rahlves said. “It’s kind of strange. Before I left, I had lunch with my girlfriend and some friends, about eight of us in Tahoe, and they were saying it was about time I started winning on the World Cup, And I said, ‘Okay, if you guys think it’s time, then I’ll do it.'”
Jeff Wilson, a good friend of Rahlves’ who was at the lunch, got a call sometime Saturday morning that started “Hey, I did it.”
“It’s fun listening to the other guy,” Rahlves said. “I called Junior (Wilson) at work and he was just so excited. So excited. I could just see him shaking his head, ‘Jesus, man, it’s about time.'”
The calls were very low-key.
“I was trying to down play it a little bit,” Rahlves said. “Hearing the reaction is the best part.”
“He was very calm,” Michelle Shetler said, describing her 6:30 a.m. phone call (as a result of the nine hour time difference). “He just said, ‘honey, I won my first World Cup.’ I didn’t believe him … I was like ‘shut up’ and then I started crying. I was so excited I could hardly speak.”
Rahlves’ grandmother, Genie, contends that “he seemed to be calm, but he certainly was not.”
Calls continued for quite a while and even when they were done Rahlves wasn’t unable to fall asleep until about 2 a.m. Friday night.
The next day, sleep-deprived, he won again.
With the race starting again at the lower point of the mountain and with winds still a factor, Rahlves was timed in 1:28.88, .18 second ahead of Kristian Ghedina, an Italian racer ranked third overall in the standings with 918 points. Germany’s Max Rauffer finished in third place in 1:29.25, ousting the Austrian team, which has been a powerhouse all season, from the podium. The Austrians did not place in the top three only twice out of eight races in January and have placed every race since then.
Rahlves’ achievement matched the two-in-a-row performance of US skier Bill Johnson, who won races in Aspen, Colo. and Whistler, B.C. at the end of the 1984 season.
“It’s awesome. [Friday] was great,” Rahlves said immediately following his DH-2 win, “but now, to back it up the following day, to win again is double the pleasure. It’s just such a good feeling.
“I knew I was going to be somewhere on the podium – I didn’t expect to win, but I knew it was a good run,” Rahlves said. “When I crossed the finish line I just threw up my hands and started screaming.
“Later, I was sitting down, looking up at the sky just laughing. I was so happy,” Rahlves said. “Later I went up the lift by myself and was just kind of taking it in, taking deep breaths and I just started laughing again. When I feel like that, everything gets loose and I just start laughing.”
“This [wins and podium performances] is a habit we’re going to get into,” U.S. Head Coach Bill Egan said. “More winds and, of course, that’s why Daron won, all that wind blowing him down the hill … yeah, all 180 pounds of him. Daron was the fastest on the gliding sections – the top flat and the bottom flat. He’s been working on his tuck, as I said [Friday] and it’s been two weeks of really hard work, but it’s totally paid off.
“Ghedina had a great run, a great run, and when you can beat Ghedina on his good days, you’ve really accomplished something,” Egan said.
Rahlves said that he had a number of e-mails (about 86) from friends that came before the race saying that “I had a feeling that you were going to win this race.”
“There were a number of people who were just feeling it,” Rahlves said, explaining that he has been busy for hours returning e-mails. “Looking back and reading some of those e-mails, it’s kind of weird.”
With all the accomplishments, Rahlves was unable to sweep the whole Norway competition. He finished fifth in a World Cup super G held on Sunday afternoon on the 1994 Olympic speed run. Ghedina won his first SG with Maier finishing second.
Rahlves finished with a time of 1:29.68, 1.2 seconds behind the leader, .16 second short of another stand on the podium.
“It was a great way to cap the week,” Rahlves said. “It’s a kinda funny feeling though – it’s tough after two wins to settle for anything else. If I’d known a week ago I was gonna get fifth in super G – that’s definitely my best super G result of the season – I’d have been so happy…and I still am. Any time you get a top-five in a World Cup, it’s a great run.”
Rahlves is presently ranked 18th in the Men’s Overall International Ski Federation standings with 387 points for the season. He has scored more than 400 points in the 12-month World Cup start list, which gives him a preferred start spot in any event after the first seed is set.
“I want to be a three-event skier,” Rahlves said, and says that he will train more and prepare to race more in the giant slalom next season.
Rahlves is expected to return to Truckee March 18, pending a giant slalom race that may delay his flight to the next day. Rahlves said he is greatly anticipating the celebration when he returns.
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