Sunday, February 10, 2002
Rahlves disappointed, but still has Super G
SNOWBASIN, Utah -- On the biggest day of his skiing life, Daron Rahlves wasn't even the fastest American, let alone an Olympic medalist.
The loudest cheers from the big crowd at the finish line of the men's downhill Sunday went to Marco Sullivan, who finished a surprising ninth, 1.24 seconds behind Austrian gold medalist Fritz Strobl.
Lugging the burden of being the best U.S. hope for a medal in one of the marquee events of the Salt Lake City Olympics, Rahlves was a distant 16th, 1.71 seconds behind the winner.
"It's a tough one to swallow," he said. "I'm still kind of in a daze right now."
Nobody expected much from Sullivan, who earned his first World Cup points in December with a 27th-place finish at Val d'Isere, France.
"Did I beat Daron?" he said. "All right! No one expected it, but I ski good under pressure. This is a huge event. I just charged down the hill as hard as could. I'm just stoked that I'm in the top 10. That's what I was shooting for."
Rahlves may have had a better shot at a medal in ski jumping, considering the way he shot out of the spectacular "Flintlock Jump." He soared much farther than he intended, drawing "oohs" from the crowd but costing him precious lost seconds.
"Yeah, that flight was a little too long," he said. "I was trying to stay high and tight and I just got bucked right off the top. It was more of a timing thing. All I was trying to do was get my feet back underneath me. It was a huge, huge error."
Rahlves, 28, has another chance Saturday in the super giant slalom, an event in which he surprised the powerful Austrians to win the world championship last winter.
Still, he disputed the idea that the Super G, not the downhill, was his best medal shot all along. After all, with all of its twists, turns and other technical challenges, the Grizzly course was something of a super-super giant slalom.
"This is a good downhill for me, and I felt like I had a shot of really doing it," he said. "It was just a poor performance. But the good thing is I have the Super G coming up on Saturday."
Rahlves was the only U.S. entrant who had won a World Cup downhill, and he had so wanted to join the likes of Tommy Moe and Bill Johnson as upset American downhill champions.
"I was a little nervous today," Rahlves said.
While Rahlves struggled with nerves and an unscheduled long flight, Sullivan, a 21-year-old of Tahoe City, Calif., maneuvered the course like, well, an Austrian.
"He was skiing like it was no problem, really smooth," Rahlves said.
Skiing out of the 31st position, Sullivan got a loud, flag-waving welcome after his surprise finish.
"Just seeing the whole crowd there. Everyone is so stoked for the Americans," Sullivan said. "It's an awesome feeling, just to have so many people supporting you. I'm glad I had a fast run to get the people cheering a little bit."
With this first taste of Olympics success, Sullivan knows there should be much more to come.
"I'm one of the youngest racers in this race," he said. "My focus is down the road. I'll have a couple of Olympics to go, hopefully, and next time hopefully I'll be coming home with medals."