Saturday, February 16, 2002
Defending world champ falls short in Super G
SNOWBASIN, Utah -- In an event that demanded courage and confidence, Daron Rahlves' last hope for Olympic success was doomed by caution.
On his home country's snow, the defending world champion in the super giant slalom felt this was his best chance for gold. Yet on a steep, unforgiving course he described as "the toughest and trickiest" he'd ever seen, Rahlves finished eighth.
The disappointing Super G finish Saturday came six days after he was 16th in the giant slalom.
"It's been a lot of effort trying to come into Salt Lake and make it happen," he said. "The ultimate was to come out with a gold medal. That's what I wanted. To not even be on the podium, it's a hard thing to take right now."
Rahlves, 28, was America's only legitimate medal hope in the two speed events dominated by Europeans.
In the packed grandstands at the finish line, a banner read "Team USA Rocks, Go Big `D' Go, Daron Rahlves Fan Club."
Rahlves, 5-foot-9, is dwarfed by the big, powerful Austrians who dominate the World Cup speed events. Still, he talked confidently of his chances at the Salt Lake City Games, especially after finishing ahead of Hermann Maier and Stephan Eberharter to win the Super G world championship at St. Anton, Austria, last year.
But he failed to build on the momentum of last season's strong finish and never was better than fourth in a World Cup race this winter.
"Daron's been under a tremendous amount of pressure," said teammate Thomas Vonn, who finished a surprising ninth. "He's the poster boy, you know. He's the guy that's marked to do it all. That's a lot of weight to carry. I know he's skiing well, but he's just probably trying too hard. He's a good enough skier to be getting gold medals."
Unlike the downhill, where there are two training runs, the Super G allows no practice on the course, just a brief inspection shortly before the race. Rahlves saw it and realized how tough it was. He wound up being so concerned about finishing that he didn't push it enough.
"I came out safe when I could have gone in there with a little more heat and been a little more aggressive," said Rahlves, from Truckee, Calif. "That's what you don't want. I was just being a little too cautious in a few spots."
Briefly, Rahlves thought he might still get a medal, as several of the top skiers, including Didier Cuche of Switzerland and downhill silver medalist Lasse Kjus of Norway, slid off the course on the treacherous, steep face approaching the finish line.
"I thought I might barely hang in there," Rahlves said. "On a course like this, you never know."
The hope faded in a hurry as Eberharter moved into second despite a big mistake and eventually took the silver. All four Austrians finished ahead of the fastest American.
Rahlves was 0.90 seconds behind gold medalist Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway and trailed bronze medalist Andreas Schifferer by 0.65 seconds.
Vonn, 26, of Newburgh, N.Y., skied out of the No. 33 starting position for by far his best Super G finish in a major international competition.
The strong showing Saturday, he said, will give him momentum going into his best event, the giant slalom, Thursday.
Rahlves will return to the World Cup circuit for the last two downhills and last two Super Gs of the season.
"It didn't happen here. I've got to walk away from Salt Lake with a turnout I didn't want -- no medals," he said. "It's just tough, but there are more races, and everyday I get to put on skis is a good day."