For Rahlves, final chapter in Olympic medal quest nears

Former Alpine champion reappears in new skiing event
By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to The Press Tribune
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One of the few things Daron Rahlves never accomplished in his storied career as a ski racer was proudly standing on the podium and collecting an Olympic medal.


Four years ago, that opportunity came and went for a third time as he walked away unfulfilled for what seemed like the final time as the Turin Olympic flame was doused along with Rahlves’ career. After 13 years as a member of the U.S. Alpine ski team he retired, seemingly putting his Olympic quest to rest for good.


Yet at age 36, his career has been revitalized on the skicross circuit and Rahlves will soon be peering down an Olympic hill once again and hoping to claim an elusive medal in this unpredictable freestyle skiing event.


“This won’t be my last hurrah, but it’s definitely my last Olympics,” Rahlves said several weeks ago by phone while preparing to defend his skicross crown at the Winter X Games.


Three days later, that Olympic quest seemed in great jeopardy when Rahlves lost his balance heading over a series of small bumps in a qualifying run, took a nasty fall and went careening off the course. He dislocated his right hip for a fourth time and instead of heading home to prepare for the Vancouver Olympics, Rahlves quickly delved into rehab mode.


Word coming out of the Rahlves camp this week is he will recover and indeed be peering down Cypress Mountain on Feb. 21 when skicross qualifying rounds and the finals take place all in one day.


The U.S. Ski Team Web site says Rahlves is “known as the most successful male downhiller” in United States history. Now he wants to be known for one more thing – the first American to claim a medal in skicross, which is making its Olympic debut.


Once more of a renegade sport that attracted some of the ski world’s more “rowdy” individuals, according to Rahlves, skicross has gone much more mainstream. Six of the world’s top 12 ranked men are former downhill skiers in their 30s. That includes Casey Puckett, 37, a contemporary of Rahlves for many years on the Alpine circuit who is the other U.S. skicross hopeful.


For Rahlves, a father of 2-year-old twins, there is nothing more to prove, an Olympic medal would literally be the icing on the cake. He collected 28 total World Cup podiums and 12 victories, including three World Championship medals. His massive resume also includes one Hahnenkamm downhill title, which is annually the Super Bowl of downhill races. 


So what would an Olympic medal mean?


“It will be pretty cool just being at the Olympics again. It’s inspiring to be around the best of the best, just a huge honor,” Rahlves said. “To be going a fourth time is exciting to me. I never thought I would be back after 2006. Any medal I get would be huge, awesome.”


Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento free-lance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.


Other Lake Tahoe area Olympic skiers and snowboarders:

Shannon Bahrke

A freestyle skier, Bahrke grew up in Tahoe City and is making her third Olympic appearance. She won a silver in moguls in 2002.

Olympic competition: Feb. 13


Stacey Cook

A Truckee native, she took 19th in the downhill and 23rd in the giant slalom in the 2006 Olympics.

Olympic competition: Feb. 17


Elena Hight

Only 20, the halfpipe snowboarder is a South Lake Tahoe product who placed sixth in the 2006 Olympics.

Olympic competition: Feb. 18


Nate Holland

The Squaw Valley resident has won five straight X Games gold medals and was 14th in the snowboardcross in the 2006 Olympics.

Olympic competition: Feb. 15


Errol Kerr

Living in Truckee with his mother, Kerr will compete in ski cross for the Jamaican team.

Olympic competition: Feb. 21


Julia Mancuso

Her giant slalom gold medal in the 2006 Olympics is a career highlight for this Olympic Valley skier.

Olympic appearance: Feb. 14, 17, 20, 24, 26


Marco Sullivan

The Squaw Valley skier placed ninth in the 2002 Olympic downhill and was the U.S. downhill champ a year ago.

Olympic competition: Feb. 13, 16, 19