KVITFJELL, Norway March 8, 2004 (AP by Stephan Nasstrom) - After breaking one of his hands in a crash last year, Daron Rahlves was back at Lillehammer's Olympic downhill slopes looking for a better finish.
He got even more than he hoped.
Skiing on his favorite hill, the American won Sunday's super-G and clinched second place in the discipline standings, behind Hermann Maier. ``I came here with one goal: trying to win one more race at the end of the season,'' Rahlves said. ``This is a special place for me. My breakthrough came here in Norway. I won here for the first time in downhill.''
During his World Cup rookie season in 1995, Rahlves just missed the podium with a fourth-place finish in the super-G on the same hill where fellow American Tommy Moe captured one Olympic gold medal in the downhill and one silver in the super-G a year earlier.
In 2000, Rahlves struck twice within 24 hours, winning back-to-back World Cup downhills. So it's natural that Kvitfjell, north of Lillehammer and site of the Olympic speed events in alpine skiing, is a special place for the 30-year-old native of Truckee, Calif.
``It's the terrain and the feeling of the hill,'' Rahlves said of the course designed by Swiss former downhill great Bernhard Russi before the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
``I love the way the hill comes down,'' he said. ``It's a challenge from top to bottom. It's fun to ski. It seems to bring my best performance out. Last year, Rahlves made the podium with a third-place finish in the downhill at the World Cup finals before crashing badly in the super-G.
``I made three gates, crashed and broke my hand _ it was not a very good way to finish the season,'' he recalled.
Rahlves has seven career World Cup wins, all in speed events, and three this year. ``I won my first super-G ever in the World Cup this year at Kitzbuehel and now backed it up with a win here,'' Rahlves said. ``That's really special for me.'' Maier, who had already secured first place, finished third, 0.17 seconds behind Rahlves, as Austria again showed its super-G depth with a whopping eight racers in the top 10.
Bjarne Solbakken delighted the big Norwegian crowd by placing second, 0.15 off Rahlves' pace.
Maier was also a ``winner'' Sunday, picking up 60 points as he chases his fourth World Cup overall title. The Herminator leads American Bode Miller 1,165 points to 1,098 in the overall standings with only one race left in each discipline (slalom, giant slalom, super-G and downhill) in the World Cup finals starting Thursday at Sestriere, Italy. A win is worth 100 points.
But Maier said it's going be tough to hold off Miller, and two of his teammates are also within striking distance.
``It's not enough,'' Maier said of his 67-point advantage over Miller, who's trying to become the first American man to win the overall crown since Phil Mahre in 1983.
``It's going to be very hard,'' Maier said. ``I've never been in Sestriere. I know nothing about the downhill course.'' Miller, a slalom and giant slalom specialist, wound up 22nd in the super-G. He was 26th in Saturday's downhill. Going into the finals, only 102 points separate the top four in the overall standings.
Third-place Stephan Eberharter, who won Saturday's downhill, has 1,083 points. Fellow Austrian Benjamin Raich, who finished fourth in the super-G, is next at 1,063. Rahlves moved to fifth overall with 882 points.