World Cup skiing: Rahlves, Miller make history in Colorado
Teammate Bryon Friedman was watching breathlessly as none of the racers following his run were able to match his then-leading time of 1 minute, 40.75 seconds.
And then came Bode.
The sun shining through the shadows blanketing the race course flashed like a strobe light in Bode Miller’s eyes as he flew down the Birds of Prey downhill course at speeds reaching more than 80 mph.
From the Jumbotron, the jam-packed crowd watched as his distinctive style of running and smacking gates held fluidly throughout the course. He shot into The Abyss, the area where he crashed in last year’s race, without a hitch, launched the Golden Eagle Jump with both arms out, came roaring around the final big left turn, flew off Red Tail Jump and finished in 1:39.76. An airbrush couldn’t have painted a bigger smile on Miller’s face once the rooster tail of dust cleared when he skidded to a stop in the finish corral.
The win Friday was the second of Miller’s World Cup downhill-racing career and his fourth victory this season.
The bigger moment in history, however, came 13 racers later, when Daron Rahlves, racing in shaky starting position No. 31, fought progressively harder around every gate on the course to sweep under the finish line for second place, just 0.16 seconds behind Miller (1:39.92). Before coming to a halt amidst the clatter of screams and cowbells, Rahlves carved around the fence and swept an American flag out of the crowd. Miller ran into the finish area and the two exchanged an incoherent screaming session full of hugs and mutual congratulations.
“I don’t even know what he said,” Rahlves said. “We were just going back and forth. It was the coolest moment. Once I crossed over (the finish line), I saw everyone jumping up and down. I was like, ‘I’ve seen that before. That means it was good. They’re not just like, being nice guys. The next thing, my eyes went to the scoreboard. We’ve been trying to do this for such a long time.”
Friday marked the first time in World Cup history that two American men have stood on the podium together as Nos. 1 and 2 in a speed event.
“I was so psyched,” Miller said. “We both work really hard. We both do our own thing, so when it comes to a race, we want to win. To be one-two, ahead of everybody on home turf, it’s just awesome.”
Miller and Rahlves were the only two racers to finish under 1:40. Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, who has podiumed in three of his last four races and who had a big crash in Thursday’s super-G, got back on track to finish third Friday in 1:40.15.
“My run was great,” said Walchhofer, admitting he was nervous in the start gate. “I’m really happy with my skiing, especially after (Thursday). I skied aggressive. The course was good. I think the slope is fun to ski for every racer.”
Maybe not so fun for Herman Maier, who re-injured his right knee in Thursday’s race, but still managed to finish 10th in 1:40.85.
Switzerland’s Bruno Kernen took fourth Friday after making up almost a full second in the latter half of his race.
“I had a mistake in the middle where it was very bumpy,” Kernen said. “I couldn’t see anything in the shadows.”
Miller also said the long shadows falling around the course made for a Star Wars’ light-speed effect when going down the course at what he estimated to be 86 mph.
“We got going pretty quick,” he said. “The thing that makes that speed seem a bit higher is all the shadows. Where we’re going that fast is right after The Pumphouse. There’s a lot of shadows, a lot of blinking lights. It’s like a strobe light. It’s a little bumpy in there and it makes it feel a little faster. None of us would have any problem going 120 (mph) if it was nice and smooth and all open and you could see great.”
Had Rahlves managed to get his speed up during the first split on The Flyway, he would have overtaken Miller. Rahlves hit the first interval at 24.82 seconds, almost a quarter-second slower than Miller (24.59). If The Flyway section, which is flat and gliding, was taken out of the race, Rahlves would have won. His time, without the top section, would have been 1:15.10, while Miller’s would be 1:15.17.
“At the bottom, I skied as good as I could,” Rahlves said. “I was going direct. I was just trying to take out all that frustration from (Thursday) that was built up (after a 17th-place finish in super-G). I was trying to take it and rechannel it. I haven’t felt that kind of skiing in a long time. I was super solid on my feet. I don’t think you’ll ever have a perfect run, but it was a perfect effort. I haven’t been confident on the flats yet. I was a touch behind the line (at the top). But, I got it back pretty quick.”
Miller also admitted that his teammate almost swiped the top spot on the podium from him.
“I’m pretty critical. For me to be super proud of one of my teammates today like that is rare,” Miller said. “He knows he did well today. He could have beat me. The time I beat him by I made up just on the top flat. From the top flat to the finish, he beat me, so he must know he skied well because I skied out of my head today.”
Swiss speed-superstar Didier Cuche, who won the Birds of Prey super-G two years ago, took fifth in Friday’s downhill with a time of 1:40.59. Austrian veteran Hans Knauss finished sixth (1:40.75), Friedman, despite being upstaged by his teammates, still finished at a personal best in seventh (1:40.75), Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal finished eighth (1:40.81), and Austria’s Fritz Strobl, who won Wednesday’s downhill training, finished ninth in 1:40.84.