Rahlves takes Super Bowl of downhills
After several delays caused by persistent fog- and 40-plus years of waiting for U.S. racing fans, Daron Rahlves became the first U.S. racer Saturday to win the Hahnenkamm downhill in Ktizbuehel, Austria, since Buddy Werner in 1959. He edged out Swiss Didier Cuche by five-hundredths of a second and Norwegian Kjetil Andre Aamodt by eight-hundredths of a second. The course was shortened because of the marginal weather conditions.
World Cup leader Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) was eighth.
The hill is known as World Cup skiing’s biggest event of tour.
“I’ve said many times if I was gonna win any race,” Rahlves said in a press conference. “This would be the one to win- over the Olympics, the World Championships, any one. You reach a level of legendary status here.”
Before he left the finish area for doping control and then the press conference, Rahlves walked through the Strasse Der Sieger, the so-called Tunnel of Champions.
“I just can’t stop smiling,” Rahlves told reporters in the finish area. “Every downhiller dreams of winning the Hahnenkamm. It’s the sign of a great champion- and that’s what I did today.”
“I’ve never seen Kitzbuehel so quiet,” US dowhnhill/SG coach John McBride said. “We had talked about Black Saturday, meaning no Austrian on the top step, but no Austrian on the podium… wow. Daron pinned the bottom; that took huge stones and that won it for him!”
The Hahnenkamm triumph – coming in 1:09.63 – is the fourth victory of Rahlves’ career, following his downhill win Dec. 29 in Bormio, Italy, and back-to-back wins in 24 hours on the 1994 Olympic course in Kvitfjell, Norway, in March 2000. It’s also his fifth podium of the season, going with his second in a downhill a week earlier in Wengen (not the Lauberhorn DH) and his thirds at the Chevy Truck Birds of Prey DH in Beaver Creek and a third in a second Bormio downhill.
He was a little behind the pace coming out of the start, which leads into a flat section but Rahlves gathered steam as the course began to drop. Despite the fog, he all but aced the turns in the mid-section and sailed through the Zieschuss, the final rolling stretch of the run to the finish.
“Kitzbuehel’s been kinda’ like the dream race for all of us growing up in the United States,” Rahlves said. “It’s what racing’s all about, the sheer challenge, the recognition it gets, so many people not just inside skiing but outside skiing, too, know it.
“I look forward to this race each year.”
He noted that there were disappointments this week after winds and then snows erased training runs. He loves the Streif course and hated to lose even one training run. Friday, after the super G was scrubbed, he went free-skiing with friends and said he watched gondola cars, noting the names of previous champions on the cars.
“I decided to blow some steam,” he said. “They’re amazing skiers, they stepped up when there were big races and I just felt like ‘Okay, my name’s gotta be on one of these. It’s time to make it happen’ …I had a chance of putting RAHLVES on one of those gondolas.
“I think I’ll wait for that gondola every time I’m in Kitzbuehel.”
The win is “a little bittersweet,” he explained, “because I really wanted to kick out of the top, do the Mausfalle, the Steilhang … do the top to bottom race, but the decision (to change the start in the interest of ensuring the race) was made. Now I’m looking forward to coming back here next year and coming out on top…
The course is something a little different than other downhills.
“What makes this race the race is definitely the top,” Rahlves said. “And then the middle is fairly mellow but there are some big turns.” He said the intensity of the finish adds to the drama and excitement with thousands of enthusiastic fans lining the Zielschuss. “The sheer speed and the real downhill. It’s what downhill is all about, going straight down and hanging on.”
Although last season was frustrating, primarily with his inability to pop a good result during the Olympics in Salt Lake City, Rahlves has been able to produce big-race results, he said, because of his adrenaline at big races.
“The big events just fire me up more. I get more excited- there’s more on the line,” he said. “Everybody wants the big one. I want to attack -it brings little more out in me, a little more focus, a little more energy.”
Focusing on skiing, not winning, helps him. “I’ve learned I go up to ski fast. I kick out of the start and don’t think about winning. I think about what it takes to be fast. I think about what I can control. I don’t think about (Stephan) Eberharter or (Didier) Cuche. I think about things that make me fast. I make sure everything’s taken care of; I don’t let anything slip by.”
Organizers battled the fog, which clung to the middle of the course, forcing delays from the scheduled 11 a.m. start to 11:30, to noon, and to 12:30. They finally decided to drop the start to the Alte Schneisse, just above the super G starthouse and after a TV camera forerunner went down the course at 1:42 p.m., showing many sections of the course grey but no thick layers of fog, went head with the re-re-re-restart time of 1:45.
The lowered start eliminated the challenging Mausfalle and Steilhang but still sent racers through the Seidelalm, Hausberg and Zielschuss sections. Weather had troubled the race crews since midweek after one training run when winds erased a second training run and about a half-meter of new snow wiped out Friday’s super G.
Rahlves said the victory won’t reduce his focus for St. Moritz and the World Championships which open Feb. 2.
“I want the gold in St. Moritz, too. This was my fifth podium, my second win in downhill and I haven’t even got my super G going yet,” he said. “But I feel my speed, my skis are great and I look forward to the net race where I can ski as hard as I can.”
Rahlves didn’t forget to compliment his equipment, either.
“Now, I know if I put it all together, everything is there for me to be the fastest man down.” He said his Atomic Skis and Lange boots, among the rest of his equipment, have been perfect.
“Everything is made easy for me right now,” he said. “I just go out, get in the start and do my job.”
Two years ago, he took time off over the holidays, then reached the podium in Kitzbuehel, finishing third in the Hahnenkamm, and went on to muffle Austrians a couple of weeks later when he won the World Championships super G gold from Eberharter and Hermann Maier in St. Anton. For some reason, January has been a time for him to get rolling, he said.
“I’m a world champion and winner of the Hahnenkamm. I feel like adding to that,” he said.
Since his podium in 2001 in Kitz, Rahlves said he’s had a heightened appreciation for what skiing means in Austria, and especially in this resort community. Discussing the Tunnel of Champions, he said, “It’s a great place to be. I can say I walked it.
“Since 2001, I’ve wondered what it could possibly be like to hear ‘Hahnenkamm sieger’ (champion) and hear my name… and in a couple of hours I’ll know.