Big Mountain, Mont. March 23, 2001 (USSA)--Veteran Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA)collected his first national downhill championship Friday andimmediately dedicated the victory on the first day of the Chevy TruckU.S. Alpine Championships to Bill Johnson, the ex-Olympic downhillchampion who underwent brain surgery following a race crash 24 hours earlier.
ESPN will broadcast coverage of the downhill April 6 at 4 p.m. EST.
Rahlves, who won the super G crown a year ago in Jackson Hole, Wyo., wonwith a time of 1:24.78 with CaseyPuckett (Aspen, CO) taking the silver medal in 1:24.99. Third place wentto Chad Fleischer (Vail, CO) in1:25.43. Defending champion Chris Puckett (Boulder, CO) was fourth andGeoff Stephenson (Wilson, WY)finished fifth in the field of 61 at Big Mountain resort.
Johnson, the 1984 Olympic downhill champion from Sarajevo, was in a comaFriday after spending a stablenight following surgery. He pitched forward onto his face Thursday in aFIS-B downhill. tore into two rows ofsafety netting and was unconscious when help got to him in moments; heunderwent several hours of surgery ata Kalispell medical center.
Rahlves, who won the gold medal in super G at the World Championships inAustria this season, said he didn'tfollow skiing when Johnson won his Olympic gold, that he didn't followthe Winter Olympics until the 1992 WinterGames in France. But he knew of Johnson's performance and he's met himat the annual Chevy Truck Return ofthe Champions.
"Last night I was thinking about it, like 'Man, it'd be nice to put arun down and dedicate it to Johnson.' So, that'swhat I'm doing now," Rahlves said. He said Head Coach Bill Egan gatheredthe men's team Thursday afternoonfor an update on Johnson's situation and the team had a moment ofsilence and said a private prayer for theex-champion. "I hope he comes through strong and healthy...
"It didn't affect me today. I'm pulling for him, everybody's pulling forhim...and I'm glad to dedicate this race toJohnson."
His race, he said, "was a little ragged in a few spots. I tried to do acouple of things different from Thursday'sFIS race. One paid off one didn't," he said referring to one trickyturn - "but I skied the bottom better today sothat helped me a bit.
"The snow was hard. It was slick in a few spots, which I was kindasurprised about, but it's great to have U.S.nationals on a hill that's got some good turns, a jump and has hardsnow. You can't beat it, It actually challengesyou," Rahlves said. "I'm fired-up for the super G..."
"I want to win..."
At this point in his season, after a winter of travel, he continued,he's thinking more about riding his HarleyDavidson or a dirt bike "but this hill pumps me up. I like the challengeof it."
Puckett added, "I was going out today to win, as usual, but I'm happybecause Daron has had such anoutstanding year and this says I'm skiing well, too. I want to win everyevent here. I feel like I have the capabilityto do really well...
"It's a difficult course," Puckett said. "You're never able to get intoa good turning rhythm. You get screamingdown the straight-away and then you go into a huge turn and then you getscreaming again and then anotherhuge turn...you never really get into a rhythm on the course. It'salways coming at you really fast."
The men compete again Saturday, racing super G before they get an offday Sunday.