- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

Pause a moment amid the frenzy generated by an over-the-top, media-driven football game in Houston to consider what a handful of young American athletes are doing in the mountains of Europe.

The under-rewarded (they’re technically amateurs) and relatively unknown (TV time limited to tape delays on the Outdoor Life Network) members of the United States Alpine Ski Team are, pardon the vernacular, kicking some serious Euro butt.

The American men served notice in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last weekend that they can compete on an equal footing with all other teams on the World Cup circuit and that European dominance of the world’s premier ski racing competition is eroding.

As the World Cup season moves into its final five weeks, U.S. skiers have the momentum and confidence that on any given day they can share the awards podium — once the exclusive domain of Europeans.

“We’re starting to come into our own,” said Bode Miller in typical New Hampshire understatement last Sunday. Miller had just battled through a wet snowstorm to win the combined (results calculated from finishes in a downhill and a slalom) on the final day of the 64th Hahnenkamm race week in Kitzbuehel. “I skied well all weekend. Three times in the top 10 out of four races — it was excellent.”

Miller’s combined win was one of two recorded by American men at the Hahnenkamm; Daron Rahlves won the super G earlier. Rahlves also was third in a makeup downhill and second in the featured Hahnenkamm downhill, considered the toughest, most demanding downhill race on the World Cup circuit. In all, Americans had two victories and four top-three finishes during the biggest event of the winter.

Two days later, Miller showed that his performance in Kitzbuehel was going to be the norm for the rest of the season. He finished fourth in a slalom at Schladming, Austria, again battling a snowstorm and long delays on the course after leading on the first run. Teammate Tom Rothrock of Washington state was ninth.

Not to be outdone, Rahlves finished second in a downhill race Friday in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for his fourth straight top-three finish. Yesterday, battling a chest cold, Rahlves made a mid-race mistake and finished 14th in a downhill on Garmisch’s Kandahar race course.

The Outdoor Life Network will air the Garmisch race today at 5 p.m. and Thursday at 10 p.m. Rahlves and teammate Bryon Friedman narrate part of the race. The U.S. team will finish up in Garmisch today with a super G.

Miller currently is fifth (758 points) and Rahlves sixth (654) in the overall World Cup standings, with three Austrians and one Norwegian ahead of the American duo. In individual disciplines, Miller is first in both the giant slalom and combined, while Rahlves is second in the downhill and third in super G.

All but lost in the flurry of wins and top-threes by the American men was that the U.S. team moved into second place overall in the Nations Cup standings after Kitzbuehel. Austria was the runaway leader with 10,865 points, but U.S. athletes had 3,039 through the Kitzbuehel races.

The American women, for their part, have emphasized the team concept this winter. They have not had the spectacular wins that the men have had. There are no standouts on the women’s team, with any member able to pop into the top five in any given race. As a team, the American women have been steady and consistently in the top 25 (where points are earned).

On Friday, Bryna McCarty of Vermont collected her first top-five result with a fifth in a downhill in Haus, Austria. Colorado’s Caroline Lalive was 11th. Yesterday McCarty was ninth in a second downhill at Haus, Lindsey Kildow of Colorado was 11th and Lalive 19th. Competition concludes today with a super G.

Despite missing four World Cup downhills, McCarty appears to be on the verge of qualifying for the Cup finals, which are for the top 25 skiers. Her two downhill results moved her into 23rd place with one event remaining this season.

Kirsten Clark of Maine was leading the American women with a 10th-place in the overall standings before she crashed Friday, ending her season. She broke her right wrist, suffered ligament damage to both knees and, according to the team, is out indefinitely.

Clark’s injury is bad news, of course, but the American team looks to be getting stronger as the season winds down and in a good position for the season-ending finals.

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