BEAVER CREEK - Last month, Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller each took a ride in an F-16 jet that buzzed the Birds of Prey downhill ski course from 1,000 feet.
It was, Rahlves said with a speed-demon’s wicked grin, an experience like no other. On Friday, they got a much closer view, and the experience was happily familiar. For the second straight year, the U.S. teammates finished 1-2 in the World Cup downhill race, topping a 56-skier Olympian field that included Austrian star Hermann Maier and the world’s fastest skiers. This time, it was Rahlves winning on the course, where the start was moved lower on the mountain because of fog and wind. Rahlves, the 2003 champion, posted a time of one minute, 13.37 seconds, with Miller taking second in 1:13.64. Austria’s Hans Grugger was third in 1:13.71. “Coming across the line and having the crowd erupt like that was a good feeling for sure,” said Rahlves, whose parents and wife, along with a buddy dressed as an ear of corn, were among those in the stands and finish area. The Air Force Academy band played the national anthem. When Miller and Rahlves went 1-2 last year on the same hill, they made U.S. ski history — no American skiers had finished 1-2 in a World Cup downhill. This time, Rahlves had an inkling it would be his day. “I was going to bed last night knowing this was going to happen,” he told the crowd during the awards ceremony. “I am stoked.” Rahlves started 27th; Miller 29th. Unlike 2004, when Rahlves watched from the finish area as Miller nipped him by .16, this time Rahlves’ searing run stood up, but with some anxious moments. Miller was faster than Rahlves at the top of the course, his first two intervals .05 and .02 better than his teammate’s, using what he called the “freak-out” approach, skiing such a straight line that he purposely nips gates. But Miller’s risk-taking backfired when he went too high and far off a jump called the Golden Eagle, where some of his margin disappeared into thin air. Still, Miller was upbeat in an emerging game of one-upsmanship that could provide an intriguing matchup going into the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. “I know he has a lot of aggression pent up from last year here,” said Miller, last year’s World Cup overall champion. “He likes to take it out on the hill. I was aware he was going to be tough to beat today.” If this finally is Rahlves’ year to steal Miller’s spotlight, he’s picking a good one. February’s Olympics will be his third and probably last. Rahlves, 32, from Sugar Bowl, Calif., has said he likely will retire after this season. Despite high expectations — he’s the all time top U.S. men’s speed skier with 10 downhill and super-G wins — he never has finished better than seventh in the Games. These days, he’s skiing the best of anyone on a deep U.S. team, though Miller promises he’ll “come out full bore,” for today’s giant slalom. Rahlves and Miller train together and root for one another. Sort of. “I was rooting for Bode for second place all the way,” Rahlves said with a smile. “He’s the biggest threat that I have to look out for. When he does well, it fires me up too.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0259 or firstname.lastname@example.org IF YOU GO World Cup men’s ski races, through Sunday, Beaver Creek People to watch: Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves, Hermann Maier, Erik Schlopy, Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Benjamin Raich Schedule: Today — giant slalom, 11 a.m. first run, 2 p.m. second run; Sunday — slalom, 9:45 a.m. first run, 12:30 p.m. second run