- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY In his nine seasons on the U.S. Ski Team, Daron Rahlves has racked up a lifetime's worth of ouch.
He has suffered two right hip dislocations. Multiple ribs popped out of place. And a broken left hand that has left him virtually knuckleless at the base of his thumb and forefinger.
In other words, he's been pretty fortunate.
"I've been lucky, for sure," said Rahlves, who will compete in tonight's downhill. "I haven't had any big knee injuries."
Such is life in the bone-breaking, joint-crunching, ligament-shredding world of Alpine and freestyle skiing. As 13 days of Olympic competition kick off with the men's downhill, only two things are certain.
Someone will walk away with a gold medal. And someone else won't be walking away without medical attention.
"The nature of our sport is putting yourself in harm's way," U.S. downhill skier Marco Sullivan said. "You're defying nature by trying to go 80 miles per hour down the side of a mountain. I played football in high school, and I get more beat up skiing."
Tell that to Thomas Grob. A veteran of the 1998 Olympics, the Chilean skier fractured his left tibia and fibula after crashing during a Thursday practice run, ending his Olympic experience before it officially began.
Likewise, U.S. skier Chad Fleischer never made it to the Olympic march of nations or even the U.S. team's introductory news conference.
After catching a ski midway through a World Cup training run in January, Fleischer careened into a nearby safety net, tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee and spraining his right elbow.
"It's hard to come back from that, but for us it's kind of normal," said Sullivan, who suffered a complete tear of his left ACL two years ago. "If you look at a World Cup podium, it's pretty rare to see someone who hasn't had knee surgery."
Sullivan isn't kidding. Croatia's Janica Kostelic tore four ligaments in her right knee in 1999, then tore the outer meniscus in her left knee last year. Switzerland's Sonja Nef, a favorite in the super-G, has had six operations on her right knee and says she has considered quitting the sport four times.
Then there's Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg, who isn't competing in this Olympics. A four-time world champ and two-time Olympic gold winner, Wiberg has endured 13 knee operations, an unofficial Alpine record.
Said U.S. aerialist Evan Dybivg, who tore his right ACL last year: "For the last couple of years, I've been skiing without an ACL in my left knee. Actually, it's not that I don't have any ACL. I think there's a little bit left in there."
With the exception of Rahlves, the 2001 world super-G champion, every American Alpine racer who has medaled at the worlds or the Olympics since 1976 has had a major knee injury. And should a member of Team USA medal at Salt Lake City, the streak likely will continue.
Slalom favorite Bode Miller is racing with an unreconstructed tear in his left ACL, courtesy of a World Cup wipeout that sent him 30 feet into the air and 30 more feet into the snow. Nagano gold medalist Picabo Street, a long shot in the women's downhill, took two years off after breaking her left femur and tearing her right ACL in a horrific 1998 crash.
"A lot of doctors say that skiing's just not natural for your legs," Sullivan said. "Your tendons and ligaments aren't meant to take that kind of stress. So even if you're not crashing and having great runs, over time it's going to weaken stuff."
Emily Cook can attest to that. America's best aerialist, Cook hit a stiff headwind while jumping in Lake Placid, N.Y., just before the Games. Though she didn't crash, she came down on a hard spot outside the course's landing area. Her resulting injuries torn ligaments in her right foot, a pair of dislocated bones in her left put her out of the Olympics.
"I landed flat on my feet just right but there was too much force," she said. "When I was really young, I had a coach who said to my dad, 'If Emily decides to stay in this sport, there will probably be at least one season that she'll have an injury that will take her out for the season.' Unfortunately, mine was this year."
And although major injuries receive the most attention, lesser ailments bumps, bruises, minor dislocations are far more common, so much so that few skiers give them second thought.
According to Rahlves, pain comes with the territory.
"There's charley horses, contusions, just being physically sore," he said. "Your back takes a big toll. So every single day, I'm getting worked by our athletic trainer, just trying to stay loose."
Sometimes, it takes more than a massage to feel better. During a World Cup race in Europe last season, U.S. Paralympic Team skier Mary Riddell straddled a gate midway through her run.
"I felt like I broke my pelvis," she said. "I didn't, but it hurt for the rest of the time there. But you have to ski."
Sullivan, who separated his right shoulder last week, concurs.
"I got a little knot right here, and it hurts pretty bad," he said. "But I'm dealing with it this is the Olympics, and I'm not letting that slow me down.
"Besides, I've already separated the other one."

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