Inside Olympic Sports

February 19, 2001

Coming at You
With a win in Austria, Daron Rahlves gives the U.S. hope on the
slopes

Surely Daron Rahlves had just seen an apparition, or at least a
malfunctioning scoreboard. His head swiveled as he skidded to a
stop after his Super G run at the World Alpine Championships in
St. Anton, Austria, on Jan. 30. Rahlves stared in disbelief at
his time of 1:21.46, the fastest of the competition. "I kept
waiting for them to fix the 1 by my name," the 27-year-old
Californian would say later. It took a vanquished king to
convince Rahlves he had won. On his home snow, world and Olympic
champ Hermann Maier walked over and told Rahlves, "You have done
me better." Rahlves's triumph left silver and bronze to
Austria's Stephan Eberharter and Maier, respectively.

In a place where outsiders don't often upset the applecart,
Rahlves had waltzed in and baked himself a strudel. "Ah, sweet
run," Rahlves said soon after the race. "I just want to drink it
in."

So he did. First he walked to the team's hotel, where a
smattering of young American women chanting his name ("DA-ron")
were drowned out by dozens of local frauleins ("da-RON"). Later
he headed down Dorfstrasse, the town's main street. Passing his
name, which had been carved into an ice sculpture, he entered
Bobo's, an American-themed restaurant, to the strains of Queen's
We Are the Champions. There he served as celebrity bartender,
resisting most requests for toasts and trying a new event, the
across-bar champagne squirt into any mouth that opened.

Rahlves even took a call from the president that evening. No, not
the new one in Washington, the one in Vienna. "Take it easy on
our skiers," implored Herr Prasident, Thomas Klestil, who needn't
have worried. The hosts won 11 medals in St. Anton; no other team
won more than three. Austria hasn't known dominance like this
since the heyday of the Hapsburgs.

Rahlves's dynamic Super G run included a wobble on a sharp
right-hand turn two thirds of the way down the course. In the
downhill eight days later, on Feb. 7, he almost lost a ski but
still finished fifth. He was the brightest spot in the U.S.
team's performance.

At only 5'9" and 175 pounds, Rahlves is ill-built for his sport's
speed events, which favor bulky, thick-legged racers. He is a
technician who takes early entrances into turns, squares himself
quickly and cuts a tight line to beat the power skiers who glide
faster on the flats. Yet he has the unmistakable spirit of a
downhiller. His father, Dennis, a 54-year-old rodeo competitor,
proudly recalls his son's riding a motorcycle on his own at age
eight.

At 19 Daron became a world champion in jet skiing (that's on
water, not on snow). He still has a plate in his left shoulder
from a broken collarbone he suffered on a dirt bike at 23. Six
weeks ago on the Italian Autostrada, he rolled his car, which
flipped four times and landed in a ditch. Rahlves emerged with
only bruises, but his passenger, girlfriend Michelle Shetler,
broke her left arm in four places, knocking her out of
competition on the pro snowboard circuit.

Rahlves's two career World Cup wins (both in downhill races last
winter) made him a 25-to-1 shot at the local Cash Bet kiosk to
win the Super G at St. Anton. By contrast Maier, who was on the
cover of eight magazines and five newspapers at a nearby
newsstand, was under constant media scrutiny. "This week it is
too hard to breathe," Maier said after winning a silver in the
downhill, his only other medal.

"I wouldn't want Hermann's life," said Rahlves. "If you're too
busy meeting expectations, you might miss the party."

U.S. Women's Bobsled
Sliding Toward The Top

The last time a U.S. men's bobsled team won an Olympic medal,
Eisenhower was president. Yet with the first women's Olympic
bobsled competition a year away, a U.S. medal is practically a
foregone conclusion. With a second-place finish last Friday at
the world championships in Calgary, USA 1 driver Jean Racine and
brakeman Jen Davidson earned their 22nd medal in as many starts
and were only .02 of a second from their sixth straight win this
season. "Jen and Jean performed tremendously," said U.S. coach
Bill Tavares. "They are disappointed about the silver, but they
can't win 'em all."

It's rare to win even most of 'em in a sport in which a turn a
few degrees too sharp or a sled runner a few degrees too cold can
mean the difference between first and fifth. Consider also that
Racine, 22, and Davidson, 28, are among the youngest duos in
women's bobsledding and that at 130 and 170 pounds, respectively,
they put 70 fewer pounds behind their push start than do their
top rivals, the two best German teams.

The flat, easy-to-navigate Park City track, which will be used in
next year's Games, will force Racine and Davidson to improve that
push. "We need to bulk up," said Racine last week, between
mouthfuls of garlic bread. The way the two women push each other,
however, is unparalleled. "Jean's taught me about ice, and I've
helped her with her speed," says Davidson, a former Utah State
sprinter. "We've become obsessed with winning."

It wasn't always such smooth sliding. The 5'4" Racine, a No.
2-ranked U.S. junior-luge-team member before she made the switch
to bobsledding in 1996, was already the best driver on the
circuit in 1998 when she asked American coaches to pair her with
the 6-foot Davidson, who had a record score on the physical
fitness test the U.S. team was giving to aspiring brakemen at
that year's team trials. Their initial run together was the first
time that Davidson, who had tried out for the U.S. team on a
whim, had even been in a bobsled. "She was late on the brake, and
we crashed into the boards [at the end of the course] and ruined
our runners," says Racine, cracking up at the memory of her
terrified partner.

Three months later Racine and Davidson earned a silver medal in
their first World Cup, and by the time the Salt Lake Organizing
Committee announced the addition of women's bobsled to the
Olympic menu, in 1999, the pair was working its way up to a No. 1
world ranking. The victories--not to mention ebullient
personalities--have paid off. Northwest Financial Network signed
on as a major sponsor of the pair last year, and there is talk of
a Visa sponsorship.

The success and visibility of Racine and Davidson promise to
raise the boat (or sled) for all American bobsledders--even the
elite men. "They're supportive but very, very hungry for a win,"
says Racine. --Kelley King

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY COLOR PHOTO: TODD KOROL Davidson (left) and Racine have put U.S. bobsledding on the fast track.

Dispatches

Swedish swim star Therese Alshammar has finally split with coach
Dirk Lange. A year ago German Olympian Sandra Volker, Lange's
girlfriend at the time, told Lange she did not wish to train
with Alshammar, and the Swede blamed her own disappointing
showing at the Sydney Games (two silver medals, one bronze) on
Lange's "inconsistent" tutelage....

Artistic impression be damned: The International Skating Union
will hold a jumping competition in Lyon, France, on March 3-4,
two weeks before the worlds. Skaters will attempt seven leaps or
combinations, ranging from a triple toe loop to a triple Axel
for women and from a triple Salchow to a quad-triple for men.
Winners will receive $20,000 apiece....

New U.S. citizen and marathon world-record holder Khalid
Khannouchi says he will forgo the London Marathon (and any
appearance fee or shot at the $55,000 first prize) in April to
prepare for the Edmonton worlds, in August....

While the Austrian Alpine team was mining medals at the worlds
in St. Anton, Alois Lipburger, the 44-year-old coach of the
national ski jumping team, was killed in a car accident outside
Willingen, Germany. Martin Hollwarth, a jumper on the team, was
driving and skidded on an ice patch while trying to avoid an
oncoming car....

The Czech Republic announced the first eight members of its ice
hockey team for Salt Lake City. Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo
Sabres and Jaromir Jagr of the Pittsburgh Penguins, both of whom
played on the gold-medal-winning Czech team in 1998, will lead
the 2002 squad.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)