Amid some carnage Rahlves finds gold
Vail, CO Colorado
BUTTERMILK MOUNTAIN, Colorado ” In what was a contest of adaptation and survival, Daron Rahlves came away as the king of evolution.
At Sunday’s Winter X Games skicross final, Rahlves made key passes and held his line to take gold for his first skicross win. Canadian Stanley Hayer was second, while Aspen’s Casey Puckett made a late charge to finish third. Vail’s Chris DelBosco won the consolation round, finishing seventh overall.
“I still have a lot to work on,” said Rahlves, one of the best American downhill skiers, who made the transition into skicross last year. “My starts are pretty pathetic still, but it’s nice to have a hill that allows you to have time and hopefully make moves and passes.”
Early on in the race, it looked like the best way advance wasn’t to make passes, but to simply cross the finish line. In three of the men’s quarterfinal heats and one of the women’s semifinals, racers took big spills while attempting to make passes. Three of the four crashes came on the second-to-last jump before the finish and required long course holds while medical staff attended to the racers.
“There was a lot of tight skiing today ” guy on each other’s skis. Some guys had some really bad luck getting tangled up,” Rahlves said. “That’s what the sport is about ” the wrecks, that’s what people like to watch. As Stan (said), you have to make the right call. You want to win, but you’ve got to be safe. You’ve got to get to the finish line first.”
Rahlves took a page right out of Puckett’s book in the finals to pick up his first career skicross win. Coming out of the start Rahlves sat in back, but made an early move and a took a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.
“Being out in front you could run your own lines ” you’re not stressing to make your move,” Rahlves said. “But the whole time … I knew they were on my back and I worked harder staying in front in the finals than I did (coming from behind) in the semifinals or my first head because you could slip in behind somebody and gain speed and draft.
“(I learned) from Casey holding the line and making sure nobody got by you. I was using a little Puckett tactics right there.”
And Puckett used a late Rahlves-like charge to pick up another skicross medal.
“First of all, congratulations to Daron for his first gold medal,” Puckett said. “Of course I’m a little disappointed, I wanted to do a repeat, but I found out what it was like to follow the World Champion Tomas Kraus ” he knows how to block the line. He definitely made it hard for me today. Anyway, congrats to both Daron and Stanley and it was a good day. With all the carnage out there, I was happy to be on the podium.”
Kraus, who had won three consecutive World Cup skicross races coming into the X Games, spun out in the finals and wound up in sixth. Michael Schmid was fourth while Errol Kerr took fifth. After some crashes and low finishes last year, Rahlves kicked things off with a second-place finish at the King of the Mountain event in Telluride in December, then finally got the monkey off his back Sunday.
“The guys like to give me a hard time,” Rahlves said “I had a target on my back, coming off World Cup success.”
DelBosco had the deck stacked against him early in the day with the No. 16 seed, which came from the qualifying round.
“They had new snow right before I got on the course,” he said. “But as long as you are in the show, it’s good. And I was ready for today.”
Running as the fourth seed in his quarterfinal heat, DelBosco charged out in front and held the lead all the way through the finish. In the semifinals, DelBosco was in fourth early on, but passed Rahlves midway through the run. It looked like DelBosco was going to hold on until Rahlves made a pass on the final jump to finish less than a ski length ahead of DelBosco. In the consolation round, DelBosco took the lead right away and never looked back.
“I was kind of pissed after my semifinals and decided to get it done,” he said. “I felt good. It was a good day. I skied as fast as I could and had a good final run.”
At one point, it looked like there may not have been enough skiers to field a consolation round. So many racers required medical attention that one injured competitor departed in a Chevy Blazer, as all the available ambulances were in use. With all the crashes, however, only two riders appeared to suffer any serious injuries.
“It surprised me to see Lars (Lewin) and Enak (Gavaggio) go down the way they did,” Puckett said. “I’ve watched them year after year and some of the course we go to, they are always solid and know how the take air well land are almost always in the final. To see them do the moon chicken like that is pretty surprising.”
But, as any racer will admit, there is a certain capricious nature to skicross.
“You could take all of us, throw us up in the air and see who hits first and that’s how it could turn out,” Rahlves said. “There’s so much that could go on. It’s a little risky, but it’s fun.”
On the women’s side, France’s Ophelie David defended her title.
“The hardest thing for me this year was to say, ‘It’s just a game, have fun and try to put the pressure away.’ As soon as you do that, I think you’re OK,” she said.
David overtook third-place finisher Magdalena Johnson midway through the race after Johnson checked her speed heading into a turn. Hedda Bernsten was third.
Edges: … Rahlves said he was shaking and felt nervous in the start gate, and was in the zone. “I’m having fun with it. I’m not taking this as serious as a World Cup by any means, but I ramped it up for this one … Frisco’s Jake Fiala go cut off and flew into a safety net in his quarterfinal run.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.