Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves to be honored before Birds of Prey races
BEAVER CREEK — Yes, it really has been more than 10 years since American Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves were swapping podiums like they owned the place at Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek.
Rahlves capped his alpine World Cup career after the 2005-06 season and, with Miller seemingly finally retired and safely ensconced in his duties with NBC, Beaver Creek and Birds of Prey will honor the two on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 10:30 a.m., prior to this year’s downhill.
“It’s going to be something very special,” Vail Valley Foundation director of communications and Birds of Prey chief of press Tom Boyd said. “It’ll be something that will give us lifetime of memories to enjoy these great racers.”
The reason Miller and Rahlves will take their bows on Saturday are very simple. An American male hadn’t won on home snow since the mid-1980s until 2003, when these two got going.
Before Daron and Bode or Bode and Daron, the Americans were an afterthought in Beaver Creek and in the skiing world.
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During the 1999 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, the reason Birds of Prey was built, the Americans were nice hosts and nothing more.
Throughout the 1999 Worlds, the Vail Daily ran a medals box on its front page every day with the flags of nations and their hardware. The Americans were skunked.
Vail’s own Chad Fleischer finished sixth in the super-G during “Vail ’99,” as it was called back then. Fleischer’s finish was a feel-good story, but not the highwater mark of fairy tales. The concept of the U.S. Ski Team being competitive on the world stage, much less on home snow, was ludicrous.
Although he was the first American to win on home snow in ages in 2003, Rahlves did not win the Birds of Prey downhill that year.
Hermann Maier won the last of his eight victories on, what to that point, had been his course during the official Birds of Prey downhill. Rahlves won a rescheduled DH from snowless Val d’Isere, France.
“Best Val d’Isere downhill ever,” Rahlves joked from Beaver Creek.
His time of 1 minute, 39.59 seconds that day still stands as the Birds of Prey record. More importantly, American skiing was relevant in Beaver Creek. Since Birds of Prey had opened in 1997, the course really could have been confused for Austrian home snow, with a bit of Norway as well.
Miller was a DNF that day, but the two were starting their dance. Miller edged Rahlves by 16-hundredths during the 2004 Birds of Prey downhill as they went 1-2.
Before the 2005-06 season, Rahlves called his shot, predicting the same finishes for the two, but with Big D taking the win. This was out of character for Rahlves. He was the quiet one of the duo, while Miller was, at times, known just as much for his mouth as his skiing abilities.
But never doubt Daron as he led another Rahlves-Miller 1-2 on Dec. 2, 2005. Under the category of “now you’re just showing off,” Miller and Rahlves went 1-2 the next day in the giant slalom with Miller defying gravity the only way he could. By all rights, Mill should have been a DNF several times during both runs, but that was a prime example of Bode being Bode.
To cap the 2005 weekend, some guy named Ted Ligety finished third in the slalom.
Miller carries the torch
Rahlves retired after the 2005-06 season, but Bode would continue skiing for another nine years. He opened Birds of Prey 2006 by biffing in the super-combined. He essentially had a 2-second lead as the last to run the afternoon slalom and skied out. That, boys and girls, gave Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal what was only his third career World Cup win at the time. (The Norwegian has 32 victories on resume now.)
But in another Bode being Bode moment, he came back the very next day to win the downhill, leading four Americans into the top 10 (Steve Nyman, Scott MacCartney and Marco Sullivan). What’s more, an unidentified coach slid into his path midway through his run. When one watches the footage of that race, one sees a green dot flying past Miller as he continued racing, completely unperturbed.
Miller’s ability to defy adversity kept the Birds of Prey fans watching until a spectacular crash during the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships super-G on Golden Eagle.
Before that crash, Miller seemingly was always past his prime, but kept defying Father Time. While the 2006 Olympics were a spectacular failure, he won the elusive gold medal in Vancouver, British Columbia, in the super-combi, as well as silver in super-G and bronze in downhill. He added two more silver medals in 2014 in Russia.
Like the Energizer Bunny, Miller popped out a vintage Bode performance on Dec. 2, 2011 with his fourth win at Birds of Prey, his third downhill win.
While that would be the last of 33 career wins, Miller still had one more bravura performance at Beaver Creek. In the 2013 GS, Ligety and Miller went 1-2, the first 1-2 American finish at Birds of Prey since Rahlves and Miller were flip-flopping podiums back in 2005.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.