Miller, Rahlves ready for nationals
Newly crowned World Cup champion Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves – America’s most successful male downhill racer, are headlining upwards of 250 athletes from across the country gathered at Alyeska (Alaska) Resort for the 2004 Chevrolet U.S. Alpine Championships.
Snow shouldn’t be an issue. A snowstorm left a fresh covering of several inches Tuesday and another trace Wednesday, boosting race conditions at Alyeska, which has received 583 inches – just less than 49 feet – of snow.
After training runs Tuesday and Wednesday on Bowl/Gelende racing trail, the championships have a rolling start, beginning Thursday with a FIS downhill race – a non-title race, which gives everyone an extra speed event. The championships get underway Friday with men’s and women’s downhills.
The week of racing also includes the 11th Chevrolet Return of the Champions, which includes U.S. Ski Team medalists from Olympics and World Championships, who compete in a “relaxed” giant slalom blending alumni and current Ski Team athletes as well as development racers. There also are social events at which today’s racers get a chance to compare racing approaches and other thoughts with yesterday’s stars.
Miller won three U.S. titles (super-G, slalom and combined) a year ago at Whiteface Mountain outside Lake Placid, N.Y., while Rahlves, who has developed into a strong three-event World Cup racer, will be competing at the championships for the first time in three seasons.
Bryon Friedman, who emerged this season as a World Cup downhiller, and Frisco’s Jake Fiala and Nor Am downhill champion J.J. Johnson lead the opposition in the speed events; World Cup teammates Tom Rothrock, Chip Knight , Dane Spencer, Thomas Vonn and up-and-comers led by Nor Am slalom champion Ted Ligety, Jimmy Cochran and Aspen’s Jake Zamansky are out to take Miller down.
On the women’s side, Julia Mancuso won three gold medals (downhill, super-G, giant slalom) at Whiteface last season, too. This year, she will defend against Jonna Mendes, Vail’s Lindsey Kildow, Resi Stiegler, Libby Ludlow and, among others, Nor Am overall champion Stacey Cook, Nor Am super-G champion Bryna McCarty and Nor Am slalom champion Kaylin Richardson.
The women’s field figures to be wide open with defending slalom champion Kristina Koznick, Vail’s Sarah Schleper and Steamboat’s Caroline Lalive skipping the races because of injuries.
“This is the time youngsters can step up,” said U.S. men’s head coach Phil McNichol. “The young ones get to measure themselves against the World Cup racers and the national team skiers duke it out for national titles. This is a great chance for someone to pull an upset, just the way Steve Nyman did last year in downhill.
“The World Cup skiers are a little tired after traveling and racing all season, but they also want to win a U.S. championship, they want to pin Bode’s ears back, want to get ‘D’ (Rahlves) … and this is a great opportunity. We’re in for some exciting racing.”