Put the clippers in the bag
December 6, 2003
Nonchalantly, with his trademark half-smile, Daron Rahlves perked up on Thursday and said, “Ask me about it, after I do it.”
The compact, 30-year-old Californian had just finished his fifth-place training run, and, after fielding a couple of technical questions about pre-race adjustments and waxing ski edges, I asked him what it would feel like to win on home soil, after watching teammate Bode Miller do so in Park City, Utah, two weeks ago.
It was a question I didn’t think much about at the time, because in a week of World Cup where the return of Hermann Maier and the of rise of Bode Miller were the main media draws, Rahlves seemed to be the forgotten story – even though he had finished third in Beaver Creek last year.
Maier, who attracts reporters like a piece of fruit attracts ants, was back on the Birds of Prey after a three-year hiatus, following a near-crippling 2001 motorcycle accident, and was generating all the pre-race hype after clocking the fastest training run.
A Lake Louise super-G win last weekend, coupled with the fact that the Herminator had won seven of the ten races which he had entered on the Birds of Prey only added to the excitement.
And then there was Miller, the current overall leader before Friday, who was grabbing his own share of ink, being that among other things he is going to live in a Barilla-sponsored R.V. (The Noodle Caboose?) for the European remainder of the season, and has threatened Austrian supremacy so much that the Austrians came up with a new team just to stop him. The Austrians have dubbed the outfit “World Cup 4”; the Americans call it the “A.B.” team, as in anti-Bode.
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Yes, Daron Rahlves was just a blip on the radar, a possible contender, but not really the one person people were elbowing each other to get an interview with.
While Rahlves and Miller both held press conferences on Thursday, only two reporters showed up to talk to Daron at the Inn at Beaver Creek – one of them being the young kid from the local paper.
Miller, on the other hand, brought in a stampede of followers to his Barilla party at the Colorado Ski Museum: everyone from the international press to The Associated Press who were all treated to free drinks and an hour-long briefing on the importance of pasta.
But, after Maier struggled to match his Thursday form on Friday, and Miller crashed at the tail end of what had been a brilliant run, it was Rahlves, coming from the unheralded 28th spot who finally had the last laugh.
Turns out that Rahlves, who finished with the winning time of one minute, 39.59 seconds, knew something all along, something that everybody else was too busy to hear.
“The coolest thing,” said Rahlves, “Is Forrest Pecha, our start guy, he was like, last year, I missed everyone of your wins. So, he said, “I’m going to grow my hair out until you win.’ He always Bics it, keeps it clean. So, last night, I told Pete Bosinger, one our coaches to put some clippers in the finish bag, because we’re gonna shave his head today. I was feeling it. I just believed in myself, and believed I could do it.”
After Rahlves got done calling his parents and his wife from the finish line on Friday, just to say “Oh, by the way, I’m the first American to win a home downhill in 19 years,’ he was swarmed under by T.V. cameras, before being led to the feeding frenzy of reporters.
Even Rahlves’ ski-tech Willi Wiltz, the man behind the gold medal skis of Tommy Moe, who shockingly garners up images of Tiger Woods’ former caddy Fluff, was plugged for sound bytes.
In all the hoopla, the champagne, the flowers, the shaving of Pecha’s head, though, there was one thing I never got to ask, a question that Rahlves had made a promise to on Thursday, but one that I never got a chance to re-pose.
So, Daron, how does it feel?
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.