A hundredth of a second here | VailDaily.com

A hundredth of a second here

Bret Hartman/Vail DailyFinland's Kalle Palander turns around a gate Saturday during the Birds of Prey giant slalom race in Beaver Creek. The Finn took the bronze, but could have been golden if not for a mistake on the lower portion of the course during his second run.

BEAVER CREEK – A clump of snow here, a gate there, a flat over yonder.Saturday’s giant slalom at the Birds of Prey came down the minutiae. There were a good dozen times, at least, were winner, Bode Miller, could have gone down in his two runs. If Erik Schlopy doesn’t clip a gate in his first run, he could have made it an American podium, and probably would have taken the title from Miller.Were it not for one bad patch late in his second run, Finland’s Kalle Palander would have topped the podium. A few tenths here and there and Rahlves wins the GS.Saturday’s race was so tight, there were three ties to the hundredth of a second in the top 10 after the first run – Miller and Palander in first; Schlopy and Hermann Maier in fourth and Italy’s Davide Simoncelli and Austrian’s Rainer Schoenfelder in eighth.Two themes emerged as the second run progressed. First, the first run all but set the podium and top 10 up. Canada’s Erik Guay stumbled down, while fellow countryman Francois Bourque sprung up to sixth in the second run. But that was it.After the first run, Miller and Palander were tied for first, followed by Rahlves and Schlopy. The race finished Miller, Rahlves, Palander and Schlopy. That was likely due to a second factor – weather. There was a light snow during the first run, but by the second run, it was dumping. Nobody was going to make a big move unless any in the top six, separated by 0.81 seconds, DNFed. None did. The second run was 2-4 seconds slower than the first depending on the racers.That left Saturday’s GS to a few critical moments.

Who needs a hand?Schlopy, the “surprise” of the day even though he finished sixth here in GS last year, started his first run on fire. He was putting down a run that both Miller and Rahlves said afterward would have led to victory.But somewhere on Harrier Jump his left hand clipped a gate. “It happened so quickly,” Schlopy said. “It was like someone shot my hand with a shotgun or something. It plowed my hand back. I could feel the pain right away. It went numb. I kind of spun around and lost my pole. My thought process was, ‘Back off.’ Then I realized if I did, I would regret it.”He didn’t. Schlopy kept going without a pole and a broken hand for the rest of the first run. In the second run, he had his pole taped to his left hand so he could finish the race.It was a game showing, but that one gate did cost him the podium, if not the win. Schlopy was 17th in the final interval of the first run after being in third at the second checkpoint. With a bum left hand, he couldn’t get the push off to start his second run and was 18th in that first interval, leading nevertheless to a great fourth-place finish at the age of 33.

An apologetic PalanderAfter Rahlves and Schlopy crossed the line their second time down in first and second, respectively, the crowd at The Finish Stadium turned deathly silent when Palander started his run. With Miller running last, it was clear that the American crowd wanted the Finn to DNF or falter in a way to set up an all-American podium.Palander almost gave the crowd its wish. He crushed the top half of course and was leading going into The Abyss and Harrier Jump. But then he hit the fifth-to-last gate.”I did a big mistake in the fourth or fifth to last gate. I just came a little too straight over the last wave,” Palander said. “When you try to win, you try to keep going the last gates because you are winning or losing the race. Today, I took a little too much down there.”Palander’s final interval time was 29.02 seconds, 27th in the field. He did hold on enough to stave off Schlopy by one-hundredth of a second for bronze. In the postrace news conference, he humorously apologized to Schlopy for scraping by him.Rahlves in the mixThe California native could have made it back-to-back titles in downhill and GS. Down 0.27 seconds to Miller and Palander after the first run, Rahlves actually caught his American teammate right before Golden Eagle Jump.

Rahlves led Miller by three-hundredths of a second, going into the second-to-last jump. Rahlves was steady the rest of the way, but couldn’t match Miller’s unfathomable finish, settling for second.’That was not ideal, actually’Statistics do not do justice to Miller’s day. Yes, he was tied with Palander after the first run. An yes, he had the best times in the last two intervals of the second run to win by 0.49 seconds.It was how Miller did it. It was quintessential Bode – pedal down, seemingly smashing every gate in sight and with his hip touching the snow.”That was not ideal, actually,” Rahlves joked. “You’re not faster on your (rear end), but it does add excitement some times. I knew I needed to bring a lot of intensity.”Rahlves said he “willed” himself around the fifth gate on the upper portion and then started to put together some good turns despite his form which had the crowd gasping and roaring at the same time.”One mistake can ruin really great turns. So today on this course where it’s so flat, luckily, I put together just after Screech Owl … four turns in a row which were ridiculous. I carried a huge amount of speed off that little pitch across the dead flat this time. That made up for the mistakes I made on the top.”

Having caromed down the course in his inimitable style, the crowd was shocked and then delighted when the green graphic, indicating that he was in the lead, on the scoreboard appeared after he finished.In the postrace media gathering, he was asked if the clock lies, given his style of racing.”It does,” he joked. “I’m a big cheater.”No, just a master of minutiae.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630, or cfreud@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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