Amid carnage, Rahlves gold in skiercross |

Amid carnage, Rahlves gold in skiercross

Ian Cropp
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Daron Rahlves is interviewed after taking the victory at the men's Skiing Skier X on Sunday, Jan., 27, 2008, at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Ski Area near Aspen, Colo.. (AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

ASPEN ” In what was a contest of adaptation and survival, Daron Rahlves came away as the king of evolution.

At Sunday’s Winter X Games skiercross final, Rahlves made key passes and held his line to take gold and deny Aspen-area local Casey Puckett of a repeat. Canadian Stanley Hayer was second, while Puckett made a late charge to finish third.

“I still have a lot to work on,” said Rahlves, one of the best American downhill skiers, who made the transition into skiercross last year. “My starts are pretty pathetic still, but it’s nice to have a hill that allows you to have time and hopefully make moves and passes.”

Early on in the race, it looked like the best way to advance wasn’t to make passes, but to just cross the finish line. In three of the men’s quarterfinal heats, and one of the women’s semifinals, racers took big spills on the Buttermilk course while attempting to make passes. Three of the four crashes came on the second-to-last jump before the finish and required long course holds while medical staff attended to the racers.

“There was a lot of tight skiing today ” guy on each other’s skis. Some guys had some really bad luck getting tangled up,” Rahlves said. “That’s what the sport is about ” the wrecks, that’s what people like to watch. As Stan (said), you have to make the right call. You want to win, but you’ve got to be safe. You’ve got to get to the finish line first.”

Rahlves took a page right out of Puckett’s book in the finals to pick up his first career skiercross win. Coming out of the start, Rahlves sat in back but made an early move and a took a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

“Being out in front you could run your own lines ” you’re not stressing to make your move,” Rahlves said. “But the whole time … I knew they were on my back and I worked harder staying in front in the finals than I did (coming from behind) in the semifinals or my first head because you could slip in behind somebody and gain speed and draft.

“(I learned) from Casey holding the line and making sure nobody got by you. I was using a little Puckett tactics right there.”

And Puckett, an Old Snowmass resident, used a late Rahlves-like charge to pick up another skiercross medal.

“First of all, congratulations to Daron for his first gold medal,” Puckett said. “Of course I’m a little disappointed, I wanted to do a repeat, but I found out what it was like to follow the World Champion Tomas Kraus ” he knows how to block the line. He definitely made it hard for me today. Anyway, congrats to both Daron and Stanley and it was a good day. With all the carnage out there, I was happy to be on the podium.”

Kraus, who had won three consecutive World Cup skiercross races coming into the X Games, spun out in the finals and wound up in sixth. Michael Schmid was fourth while Errol Kerr took fifth. Vail’s Chris DelBosco won the consolation bracket.

Rahlves almost never made it to the finals, as he and DelBosco battled for third place in the first semifinals. Midway through the run, DelBosco passes Rahlves, and it looked like he was going to hold on until Rahlves made a pass on the final jump to finish less than a ski length ahead of DelBosco.

Had he not won, Rahlves might have had to find another place to stay for next year’s X Games. Rahlves received some ribbing from longtime skiercross experts and temporary housemates Reggie and Zach Crist.

“They’ve been talking about it all week, saying, ‘You’re not allowed to stay here anymore if you don’t get a gold medal, so I had pressure,” Rahlves said.

But Rahlves also had some help from them.

“I was on the phone with Zach every run at the top, asking, ‘Hey, what happened here, how can I make speed up, what’s going on?”

Rahlves said he was shaking and felt nervous in the start gate.

“I’m having a lot of fun with it,” he said. “I’m not taking it as serious as a World Cup by any means, but I ramped up and was ready for this one.”

On the women’s side, France’s Ophelie David defended her title.

“The hardest thing for me this year was to say, ‘It’s just a game, have fun and try to put the pressure away.’ As soon as you do that, I think you’re OK,” she said.

David overtook third-place finisher Magdalena Johnson midway through the race after Johnson checked her speed heading into a turn. Hedda Bernsten was third.

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