-- Daron Rahlves raced his way onto the World Cup podium last season only to find himself looking up at fellow American Bode Miller more times than he cares to recall, having been edged for victory in the downhill at Beaver Creek and at the world championships by his younger and burlier teammate.
But under snowy skies and amid thick patches of fog, Rahlves exacted a measure of revenge Friday, zooming down the icy Beaver Creek course to win his first World Cup race of the season, with Miller finishing 0.27 of a second behind for a 1-2 American finish in the Birds of Prey downhill.
It was a popular victory, and race fans clanged cowbells, blared horns and waved American flags when Miller's run came up just shy of Rahlves's winning time of 1 minute 13.37 seconds. At 32, Rahlves is nearing retirement and widely regarded as one of the more likable members of the U.S. ski team. He's also off to a torrid start this season, with two top-five finishes in the Super-G, as well.
"To come out here and own this hill, and to have a lot of people to share it with, makes it that more special," said Rahlves, a California native who was cheered on by a road-tripping contingent of family and friends. "It's wonderful to win on your home turf."
The result was a flip-flop of last year's result at the Colorado resort, in which Miller out-raced Rahlves on the relatively flat upper portion of the course for the first 1-2 finish by Americans in a World Cup event.
With fog blanketing the top of the course, that portion of the course was eliminated Friday by race officials, who lowered the start of the race by nearly 1,000 feet to give skiers better visibility along the twisting, treacherous course. The switch likely worked to Rahlves's advantage. As a smaller, lighter skier (185 pounds to Miller's 210), Rahlves doesn't carry as much speed across flat sections as heavier men. But Miller, the defending World Cup champion, was quick to dismiss any suggestion that Rahlves didn't earn the victory for simply being the better skier.
"It's not like I haven't seen Daron crush everybody on a flat section, too," said Miller, 28. "Today the race started from lower, which played a factor for everybody. I wouldn't say it was the deciding factor. We were pretty neck-and-neck the whole way down. That's a great ski race."
Austria's Hans Grugger finished third, while his better known countryman, Hermann Maier, ended up 17th after struggling in the turns.
The downhill is the marquee event in Alpine skiing, its fastest and most dangerous. With snow falling steadily all morning, race officials fought mightily to get it completed. Lowering the start was one safety precaution; halting the competition each time fog rolled in was another, and it made for slow going.
But Miller said visibility was great when he roared out of the starting gate. It helped that his goggles weren't fogging up, he noted, as they had the previous day, forcing him out of the Super-G because he couldn't see the course.
In terms of personality and background, Rahlves and Miller could hardly be more different. Rahlves boasts a Californian's sunny disposition; Miller, reared in New Hampshire, is more remote and brooding. But in terms of skiing's speed events, both like to attack.
Rahlves went first Friday, but not before having to listen to Miller stomp and snort in the starting gate and rant that he was going to "rip this hill apart!"
"I was trying to get focused," said Rahlves, who started two spots ahead of Miller. "I heard him, and he knew I heard him. There's always a ton of intensity with him. We both have a lot of intensity, so when we go head-to-head, those are the fun days, you know?"
Without painstaking review of videotape, even the most astute coach can't pinpoint where a skier makes or loses a tenth of a second. But Miller instinctively knew where he lost his critical two-tenths: It was in attacking the biggest hill on the course at its highest point, rather than glancing it slightly off-center. The result propelled him higher and farther in the air than was tactically prudent. True to his wild self, however, Miller said the rush was worth it.
"It was awesome to fly that far and that high off the jump," Miller said. "You just don't get that opportunity that often. I'll have another chance to win tomorrow and the next day; I probably won't have another chance to hit that jump until next year here, if I'm racing."