Daron Rahlves signals probable retirement; hopes to peak this seasonLAKE LOUISE, Alberta – As he nears what is probably his final shot at Olympic gold and the World Cup downhill title, Daron Rahlves remembers some advice from Stephan Eberharter, one of skiing’s downhill masters:
Go easy on the partying.
“I’ve had fun off the hill, but I plan to tone that down,” Rahlves said. “Last year I committed myself to not going out and getting hammered after a race. But when you have a bunch of friends coming over from Tahoe, you get dragged into the scene.”
The Americans always have had a reputation for late nights, either celebrating victories or blowing off steam during a long European season that rarely allows them to see home, friends or family.
Eberharter retired in 2004 after a third consecutive World Cup downhill title. In addition to the words of caution, the Austrian gave Rahlves his ultra-fast Atomic skis. Rahlves gladly accepted the skis and used them last year, but it is only this season he is taking the advice to heart.
“When I first got on tour I was going out two days before race day,” Rahlves said. “When you’re 21, 22 or 23, you can pull it off, but I probably would have done better if I hadn’t. When you’re up until six in the morning, you come out the next few races struggling, feeling torn up and weak. You want to be getting into the game feeling like a ball of thunder ready to explode.”
Rahlves finished 32nd in this season’s opening downhill. He knows it’s not enough to win on a classic course like Kitzbuehel, where he thrives. He needs to win week after week, and stay serious.
“It was one thing Eberharter said to me: It’s not worth it,” Rahlves said. “Wait until end of the season. You can party for as long as you want then. But the chance to make the most of race days is limited.”
And Rahlves’ days are limited. The 32-year-old skier from Sugar Bowl, Calif., told The Associated Press he most likely will retire after this Olympic season, his strongest statement yet on the subject.
“Probably. I can’t say 100 percent, but there’s a very, very good chance,” he said. “My life has been ski racing since I was 15. I live for the racing thing. It’s so much fun once you get on tour. But training most days … gets to be too monotonous, too boring, over and over doing the same thing on training days.”
Now he wants to go out in the best way possible – a World Cup discipline title in hand and an Olympic gold medal around his neck.
“I want to be able to walk away still at top of my game and not dragging on,” said Rahlves, the last man to win a downhill World Cup race on the Olympic course in Sestriere, Italy. “I don’t want to leave the sport until I know I’ve done everything I can potentially do.
“I know I can win the downhill title, so if I don’t I’m going to be really disappointed to walk away. If I have a great year that would be the easiest way to say thank you very much, I had a great time, goodbye.”
Others are eyeing the same prizes.
Austria’s Michael Walchhofer is intent on defending his World Cup downhill crown. He finished in the top three in all but three races last season.
U.S. teammate Bode Miller also could be an obstacle. Last season Miller broke through in the speed events, taking not only the World Cup overall and super G titles but also the downhill and super G titles at worlds. Miller won two downhills last season, while Rahlves was shut out.
Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt, runner-up to Austria’s Fritz Strobl in Saturday’s opening downhill, is a 15-year veteran. He knows the courses as well as anyone and holds the record for mmost career medals at worlds and Olympics.
Austria’s Johann Grugger, Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel and France’s Antoine Deneriaz are dark horses.
In the Lake Louise downhill, conditions were poor for the later starters. The course – shortened about 300 meters because of warm conditions – did not suit Rahlves, who at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds lacked the mass to gain speed on the long opening flat section. He was third in Sunday’s super G.