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BEAVER CREEK ” Moments before Daron Rahlves let it rip Friday for what may have been his final trip down the Birds of Prey downhill, his teammate Bode Miller had something to say.
“He was like, ‘You better throw down, because I’m gonna be frickin’ this thing,” Rahlves said.
Rahlves remembered what happened the last time Miller was that thing. Exactly one year ago, Miller narrowly outskied Rahlves to win by .16 seconds on the one-of-a-kind Beaver Creek course. Rahlves took second that day, securing the first 1-2 finish by Americans in men’s World Cup downhill history.
He wasn’t about to let it happen again ” at least not in that order. So the winningest men’s downhill racer in U.S. history did what he had to do. He laid down a nearly flawless run and, as he put it, “settled the score” with Miller while giving the home crowd another historic 1-2 finish to cheer.
And the hundreds of American fans did just that, roaring in approval ” or maybe it was disbelief ” once the result flashed on the scoreboard.
“It’s one of those races where you really feel the essence of skiing,” Miller said later. “Those kinds of races are awesome whether you get first or second or fifth or 20th.”
For a while, it appeared Miller would break Rahlves’ heart for the second straight year. Starting two spots later than Rahlves, Miller was ahead of his teammate’s pace by two-hundredths of a second with about 16 seconds to go in his run. But Rahlves’ trademark speed on the bottom section proved to be the difference.
Miller finished .27 seconds back of Rahlves, who won his seventh career World Cup downhill with a time of 1 minute, 13.37 seconds on a course that was shortened due to fog.
Rahlves, who has said he plans to retire after this season, predicted Thursday night that he would win Friday’s downhill if race organizers lowered the start to a location called “The Brink.” They did, and he followed through on his guarantee.
“Bode was scaring me on the bottom,” said Rahlves, a California resident who was supported Friday by a throng of family and friends. “He’s skiing really well too. And that’s good to see: Two of us on the same team can be challenging for the win.”
Austria’s Hans Grugger (1:13.71) edged his countryman Fritz Strobl (1:14.34) for the podium’s final spot, but this day belonged to the Americans.
Even Michael Walchhofer, one of the U.S. team’s red-and-white-clad Austrian rivals, understood the significance of having Rahlves and Miller fare well on home snow, in the World Cup’s marquee event. Beaver Creek is the lone U.S. stop on the circuit.
“It’s great for the ski sport,” said Walchhofer, who took 10th. “To have two Americans in the top … I think it helps us all.”
For Miller, the unpredictable golden boy of U.S. ski racing, Friday’s runner-up result came at a critical time. He’d finished 18th, 22nd and not at all in his last three races, with the DNF coming in Thursday’s Birds of Prey super G. But as he tends to do, the defending World Cup overall champ rose to the occasion right when the situation screamed for it.
As for the rest of the Americans, Steve Nyman continues to ski well; Friday he started in the No. 44 bib but skied into 23rd place. It was the third straight points-scoring (top-30) run for the U.S. C Team upstart.
Christopher Beckmann (41st place) and Kevin Francis (42nd) and DNFs Marco Sullivan and Scott Macartney rounded out the U.S. contingent.
Three-time Birds of Prey downhill champ Hermann Maier tied fellow Austrian Benjamin Raich for 19th, making them two of six Austrians in the top 20. The powerhouse nation put nine skiers in the top 19 the day before.
Still, Miller and Rahlves proved that when defending U.S. turf, the two countries’ roles are reversed.
“The Austrians always consider themselves the guys to beat,” Miller said, “but I think Daron and I have kind of established now that, here, we’re the guys to beat.”
Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at email@example.com.
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