Reflecting on Rahlves’ stellar career
AP Sports Writer
ARE, Sweden (AP) ” It was never about the perks or the fame for Daron Rahlves.
Instead, the Truckee resident raced on the World Cup circuit for 13 years to earn respect from his peers. He got plenty of that as he became the most accomplished speed skier in U.S. history, despite never managing to come close to winning an Olympic medal.
“Money never mattered,” he said Sunday after the last World Cup race of his career. “It’s more for pride, for being the guy throughout the whole season who’s fastest on downhill skis. That for me was the ultimate thing.”
Rahlves was fastest a lot during a career that officially will end at the U.S. national championships later this month in Maine. The 32-year-old earned 12 World Cup victories, a super-G world championship gold medal in 2001 and two medals at the 2005 worlds.
“You want to be getting in the gate and everybody to think: We’ve got to watch,” Rahlves said. “I love putting down exciting runs that get people going ‘Whoa.’ That shock factor, blow people out of their minds with the stuff you pull off. You want to be pushing the limits, taking risks and tapping into your total limit.”
At 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, he was one of the smallest men on a World Cup tour where size matters. In the speed disciplines, heavier skiers can better carry their momentum through the flatter gliding sections. Rahlves always preferred courses that are icy, steep and tough.
He consistently stunned the field with his courage and tenacity, and became one of the most feared downhillers on the circuit.
Some of his victories came on the world’s most dangerous courses ” Kitzbuehel, Austria; Bormio, Italy; Wengen, Switzerland, and Beaver Creek, Colo. He’s been clocked at up to 93 mph in a downhill.
In 2003, he caused what Austrians still call “Black Saturday,” becoming the first American to win a World Cup downhill on the Hahnenkamm course in Kitzbuehel. According to tradition, his name was painted on one of the gondolas that glide up the majestic mountain, along with skiers such as Franz Klammer, Karl Schranz, Hermann Maier and Jean-Claude Killy.
Rahlves described it as the biggest win of his career because it makes you “forever a legend.” A year later, he became the first non-Austrian to win a super-G on the mountain.
“He’s motivated me for being smaller. I’m sort of in the same position,” said Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso, who is 5-foot-6 and weighs 139. “He’s a lot smaller than the other guys. It’s cool to see anything’s possible. He’s always had a lot of perseverance.”
Though most U.S. skiers receive little attention at home, Rahlves was beloved in Europe. His courage, courtesy and ferocious work ethic made him popular with fans and media. His peers called him a humble winner and gracious loser. The European media teased him for his favorite expression: “I’m ready to rock and roll.”
“My life has been ski racing since I was 15,” Rahlves said. “It’s a great life, but it’s not what life is all about. I want a chance to do other things. It’s a little scary to walk away from something you totally love, but I don’t want to just keep dragging on.”
Rahlves has bloomed in the last four years, winning three World Cup downhills this season for a U.S. men’s record of nine victories, six more than Bill Johnson. Picabo Street also had nine. But Rahlves will leave the sport having never finished higher than seventh at the Olympics, and without any World Cup discipline titles or giant slalom wins.
He’s looking forward to starting a family with wife Michelle, riding dirt bikes, surfing and appearing in ski films.
“Daron will surely be, as I reflect back on my career, one of, if not the top athlete that I look at and say he’s been really special to be around,” U.S. men’s head coach Phil McNichol said. “He’s one of the best athletes in the sport, the most professional, most courteous pro.”
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