Banner day for the U.S.A.
Patrick Wilson of Gypsum, who was working in the east parking lot loading up shuttle buses, had Daron Rahlves.
ESPN skiing commentator Bob Beattie liked Rahlves and Bode Miller.
Former San Francisco 49ers lineman and U.S. Ski Team supporter Harris Barton fingered Miller.
Fred Haslee, a security volunteer from Minturn, picked the unknown Marco Sullivan.
They were all right. It was a banner day for the U.S. Ski Team. Rahlves thrilled the partisan crowd, becoming the first American to earn a podium on Birds of Prey with a third-place finish. Sullivan and Miller finished sixth and eighth, respectively, giving the United States three in the top 10.
The last time the U.S. men put three in the top 10 was in 1972 in Kizbuehel, Austria. For the trivia-inclined, that trio was Mike Lafferty, Eric Poulsen and David Currier.
“The whole team just works well together and has a good vibe. I’m just so stoked to have this happen right now and in the U.S,” Rahlves said. “This has been a tough place for me. I’ve known for so long I can ski well here. And I’ve had crashes a couple of times, just bad races, DNFs. Everything seemed to go wrong. I was telling myself, “This is the year to come in and just try to bring it all for the U.S. We’ve got to own this hill. It’s ours.'”
Well, at least, they’ve rented it from Stephan Eberharter and the his Austrian teammates. The last legitimate contender to come down Birds of Prey, wearing No. 37, Rahlves managed to break the Austrian stranglehold of the podium by Eberharter, Michael Walchhofer and Fritz Strobl. The Sugar Bowl, Calif., native started slow up top on the flats, but started to fly through Pete’s Arena, the Peregrine jump and through The Pumphouse.
Rahlves got within a fifth of a second of Eberharter before giving back some time on Red Tail Jump.
The pro-American crowd didn’t care. The packed crowd roared as Rahlves crossed the finish line and he responded in kind, raising and pumping his arms in the finish area.
“From day one out here training, I started to get it going. Two seconds and a fifth in training,” Rahlves said. “I still feel like I have more in me. I was just hoping to jack all that up. I pretty much hit top to bottom in the last three days and it was time to make it happen when it counted.”
While Rahlves is certainly no stranger World Cup success, the same cannot be said for Sullivan. At least until Saturday.
Sullivan took ninth at the Winter Olympics downhill in February, but his best World Cup finish was 27th at Val D’Isere, France.
So it was a considerable surprise that Sullivan streaked to the lead as the seventh racer out of the gate. Coming down in 1 minute, 41.04 seconds, Sullivan waited off to the side of the finish area.
And he waited considerably longer than expected. Walchhofer finally clipped Sullivan 16 racers later, eliciting a groan from the crowd, which was hoping for the Cinderella story.
“It was kind of weird,” Sullivan said of the wait. “It’s never really happened to me before. You’ve got the camera right in your face. I could get used to that. I know there’s a ton of great skiers and I just felt fortunate to beat a bunch of them. It was cool.”
Miller showed his usual aggressive style, gambling at every opportunity. The result was eighth and a time of 1:41.10, an especially good result, given that Miller’s specialties are slalom and GS.
“I was attacking. I was charging,” Miller said. “Still, the bottom of this course gets me. I’ll figure that out eventually, hopefully. I felt smoother on the pitch. I didn’t make the same mistakes as I made yesterday (in training). It didn’t feel as hectic. It was nicer.”
Jake Fiala, a Battle Mountain alumnus and Frisco resident, cracked the top 25, tying for 23rd with Austria’s A.J. Bear.
“I skied some sections well. I just had some problems too,” Fiala said. “I had a good week, for sure. I had my best training week, for sure. So it’s starting to come together.”
Scott Macartney of Redmond, Wash., finished 41st. Bryon Friedman of Park City, Utah, was a DNF
Quotebook: Beattie on Birds of Prey: “It’s got everything in it. First of all, it’s steep and then it gets a lot of rolls and big jumps. I talked to all the racers two days ago at the finish line and said, “What do you think about this?’ And they said it’s one of the top two in the world. That’s not bad. Kitzbuehel is the toughest. And I think (Birds of Prey) along with Bormio, Italy, is in second place.”
Barton on making a living in skiing: “If they put an offensive-line circuit together, I would probably be the dominant force in that. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.