A Real No-Bode
Daron Rahlves doesn’t make headlines the way Bode Miller does because Rahlves, it appears, primarily skis for a living.
Rahlves has no publicly stated opinions on drug testing, global warming, skiing drunk or the urinary tracts of Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong.
It is not even clear whether Rahlves has watched “60 Minutes.”
His stated mission is as clear as Miller’s is convoluted.
“I love to ski,” Rahlves says. “It’s as simple as that.”
Sorry, Daron, but Rolling Stone called and said it was interested only if you loved skiing naked.
A curious thing is happening as the 2006 Turin Olympics draw near.
Miller is busy getting all the attention while Rahlves is busy getting busy.
Miller is saying things.
Rahlves is doing things.
Rahlves trains a lot.
“He reads a lot,” Rahlves says with a laugh, “and he’s got a really creative mind, and he talks a lot, you know?”
“But the guy is unbelievable on skis,” Rahlves adds. “He’s so talented on skis. For me, I’m one of those guys who had to work really hard to get to where I’m at.”
Miller started fast out of the chute, becoming a two-time Olympic medalist at 24.
Rahlves, by contrast, climbed his mountain with a pickax, with all 13 of his major victories --12 in World Cup competition and a world championship -- achieved after he’d turned 25.
Could this be another rewrite of the tortoise and the hare?
Talk to people on the United States ski team and listen to them rave about Miller’s raw talent but then almost elevate out of their seats in their reverence for Rahlves.
“Bode, when he trains, he has his moments,” teammate Jimmy Cochran says. “Then there’s other days he’s just, I don’t know, not all there or something.
“Daron, it’s just, like, every day, run after run, consistent, fast, 100%.”
Marco Sullivan, who finished ninth in the Olympic downhill in 2002, knows he can never be Miller, whom he calls “one of the greatest natural athletes out there.”
Rahlves, though, leaves open the chance, through will, of anyone becoming him.
“When it comes to race day, I don’t think too many other people are as prepared as he is,” Sullivan says of Rahlves.
There may be no stopping Miller’s God-given abilities come race days in Sestriere. His performance has waned since he won last year’s World Cup overall title, the first by an American in 22 years. Yet, Miller is a five-event threat and could, like pearls to a string, add medals to the two silvers he won four years ago at Salt Lake City.
If you believe in stages being set, though, and good things happening to good people, and peaking at the right time, and things happening for a reason, then Rahlves may be the man to get behind.
He has all but confirmed that, at 32, this will be his last Olympics and his last season on the World Cup circuit.
“I want to step away on top,” Rahlves says. “I don’t want to be, like, dragging myself through years of just struggling to get on the podium, and never getting on the podium.... When I’m getting in the gate, I want to know that I have a chance to be the best that day. There’s no reason just to show up to ski. Or just to show up to be involved in the Olympic Games.”
Rahlves is married now, and he and wife Michelle want to start a family to add to Chevy, their Siberian husky.
Rahlves pines for a quieter life that might involve dirt-bike racing and helicopter skiing -- OK, so maybe it won’t be so quiet.
If life were fair, Rahlves would leave Turin with his first and maybe second Olympic medals, a gold medal in either downhill or super-G.
These wouldn’t be charity donations. Rahlves is having one of the best years of his career, having already won three World Cup downhill events this year, including the famed Lauberhorn in Wengen, Switzerland.
Into late January, he was third in the World Cup downhill standings and top five in the overall. He has also, late in his career, added giant slalom to his repertoire and won a bronze in the event at last year’s world championships.
He even once won a world title in jet skiing.
That’s all fine, but this is America, where it’s all about the Olympics.
It’s all anyone cared about four years ago when Rahlves went to the Salt Lake City Games thinking it was his moment. He was going to win the downhill -- and maybe the super-G -- on a home-country course he loved.
Of course, it didn’t happen, starting with the downhill, as Rahlves caught too much air on Flintlock jump, lost valuable time at the top and ended up 16th.
“I was over-amped,” Rahlves says now as he looks back on the race he still recalls as “a huge disappointment.”
There were no champagne corks popped, either, when he improved to eighth in the Olympic super-G.
Nobody needs to remind Rahlves of Tamara McKinney, who won the World Cup overall title and has more victories, 18, than any female Alpine racer in history -- yet failed to resonate with the American public because she never won an Olympic medal.
“I’ve been consistent through the World Cup, had some good world championship results,” Rahlves says, “but it’s almost like, if you don’t nail it at the Olympics, people just kind of, like, don’t even know who you are.”
There are a lot of things Rahlves has done but one thing he hasn’t.
“I want to be an Olympic champion,” he says. “Because that just completes a great athlete.... You know, people say that the Olympics is just another race, but they’re kidding themselves. I think that’s more for, like, the weak-minded that try to, like, not get caught up in all the hype. You know, it’s an intense competition, but I love it.”
Rahlves will have an inside edge on the downhill track at Sestriere, where he won a World Cup downhill in 2004.
“That doesn’t give me any extra pressure,” he says. “It just lets me know I have the ability to do it again.”
It’s not a stretch to think there might be more Americans rooting for Rahlves to win a medal than for Miller, his sometimes cantankerous teammate.
Former Olympic champion Picabo Street describes Rahlves as “a good egg,” adding, “You want him on your invitation list, being a friend. You always want to be cool with Daron.”
If Miller is a ski coach’s headache, Rahlves is the aspirin.
Rahlves shows up on time, always gives his best and has gotten the most out of his talent.
Rahlves and Miller share mutual respect, but to the outside world, Daron is the anti-Bode on most fronts.
Rahlves, at 5 feet 9 and 185 pounds, is smallish for a speed racer, and it took time to develop and improve his technical skills.
Miller is 6-2 and 210, with a prototype build, a snow-blast of talent who started as a gate skier and morphed into an all-around star.
“It’s unbelievable how different those guys are,” U.S. Alpine Coach Jesse Hunt says. “And they got there from opposite foundations. Daron has worked so hard to get where he is. He’s a small guy. He’s on top of the world in speed where, typically, that extra size matters. Bode is so talented, and hasn’t always worked that hard to get where he is. They’ve matured differently. They’re very different. And they’ve both met at the top.”
Next stop, the Italian Alps.
As always, fastest one down wins.
Will it, at long Olympic last, be Rahlves?
“Secretly, inside of me, I hope he wins three gold medals,” Street says. “Boom, boom, boom -- three cherries on top.”