February 11, 2005
BORMIO, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)--Americans Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller appear to have reversed roles.
A former technical specialist, Miller has been thwarting Rahlves in the speed events all season, winning the season's first two downhills and a super-G before sweeping both titles at the alpine skiing world championships. Rahlves was shoved into second place behind his illustrious teammate in last week's downhill.
But on Tuesday, it was Rahlves' turn to trump Miller, claiming bronze in the giant slalom, the technical event closest to Miller's heart.
Miller, the defending champion, earned himself two stitches on the chin instead, after losing control and bursting through an advertising banner in the opening run.
"I'm getting him back for a few wins in downhill and super-G,'' said Rahlves, who finished behind winner Hermann Maier and runner-up Benjamin Raich. ``We've been battling it out.''
Maier, second-fastest in the opening run, earned his first world or Olympic title since nearly losing a leg in a motorcycle accident four years ago, returning with a scorching final run to win in a combined time of 2 minutes, 50.41.
Benefiting from extra time to recover from bronchitis when striking Italian TV workers pushed the race back a day, Raich was only seventh in the opening run, but delivered the fastest final run.
Rahlves—who only seriously started training giant slalom this summer and had never climbed a World Cup podium in the discipline—stunned the field by posting the fastest time in the opening leg on the long, fast and rugged Stelvio course, taking a .60 lead over Maier.
But in the unfamiliar position of leader, and as the final top skier in the second leg, Rahlves committed a costly error on the upper half of the course and was unable to recover sufficiently to maintain his position.
Maier watched on his knees as Rahlves skied the final gates and let out a roar when the American crossed with the third-fastest time, losing gold but still giving the U.S. team its sixth medal of the championships.
``This is a very important victory for me,'' said Maier, who'd struggled with leg pain in the twisty GS and remained winless in his favorite discipline since his accident. ``Daron was super on the first run and I knew he had six-tenths of a second, so I had to be very good on my second run.''
A disappointed Rahlves lost his California cool and angrily tossed his helmet to the ground, as Maier clumsily clunked over in his ski boots to congratulate him.
``My emotions were running like mad,'' Rahlves said. ``I wasn't happy. I made a mistake on the upper section. That's why I lost so much speed. I guess that's why there was so much aggressive behavior back there.
``It's bitter sweet. I know I could have won, but I'm still happy with my medal. And with my first run, I proved I can win in GS.''
Rahlves, whose best previous GS world championship result was a 16th place, had shown greater potential this season in the discipline _ considered the corner stone of all alpine skiing and recognized as the hardest to master. He finished fifth in Flachau and was leading at the final interval in the tough Adelboden race before a spectacular crash just before the finish line.
He made great strides in the discipline after training with Miller over the summer.
``They push each other a lot,'' said U.S. men's speed coach John McBride. ``They both help each other, too.''
Giant slalom is Miller's best event and after winning the downhill and super-G titles last week, he was trying to become the first man to sweep three gold medals at the worlds since Jean-Claude Killy won four in 1968. That year, the Olympics and worlds were combined in Grenoble.
The 27-year-old from Franconia, N.H., who started with bib number five, ran into trouble on the steepest section of the course, raising his right ski higgh in the air in an attempt to regain his equilibrium. Failing to regain his balance, Miller ended up getting ripped around a gate and careened off course, busting through an advertisement banner and coming out the other side with one of the pickets in his hand.
Miller also skied out early in the first run of last week's combined race.
Miller still has two events remaining: Saturday's slalom race and the new team event that will conclude the championships on Sunday.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press