Kitzbuehel: Q&A with Daron Rahlves on the eve of the final assaultDaron Rahlves is a favorite in this weekend’s speed races at Kitzbuehel. Easily the most successful male downhiller in U.S. history, Rahlves won the Hahnenkamm race in 2003, and has always said Kitzbuehel brings out something special in him. On the day before the 2006 races commenced, Rahlves sat with World Cup beat reporters at a meeting arranged by his ski sponsor, Atomic. Rahlves expressed his deep love for the Hahnenkamm.
Rahlves has said he will retire after this season to start a family and pursue new goals. He will be sorely missed by the World Cup’s journalists, who admire his patience, professionalism and passion for the sport.
Questioner: Why was Stephan Eberharter so fast in 2004?
Daron Rahlves: He wanted it more than anybody else. A lot of guys want it, but he just somehow reached another level. That guy, when he’s skiing well, he skied with a lot of grit, just pure heart and soul, he skied to really take the win, ski the best possible race he could. You can’t really focus on winning or focus on trying to be on the podium, you gotta think about how fast you can ski the hill and exactly where you gotta go and how much line you can cut off and how clean you gotta ski the turns. To me, I think, racing, there’s always a little extra that I can push myself. Even training day I just know that if I’m going out there I gotta take everything out of my control, every risk possible, and that’s trying to look for speed every single spot that you possibly can. You push those limits quite a bit. Sometimes you put limits on yourself in training, but race day it’s like there are no limits. It’s just trying to find out just how far I could push this line or how far I could push this type of skiing.’
Questioner: Would it be possible to ski any better than Stephan did three years ago?
DR: Anything’s possible, sure. He put down a great run, I can’t take anything away from him there, but year to year it’s different. Say it’s pretty grippy snow, there’s some, like watered-down spots but not much and I think the snow they got might have hurt us a little bit. I just hope that we have a clear, cold night tonight and a warm day tomorrow then it gets clear and cold again Friday night so the course sets up. The harder snow you have, the better, because you can really push the line and really put a lot of power under the skis and you can get away with more.
Questioner: What did it take to win the Lauberhorn at Wengen last week?
DR: It’s a very difficult hill to compete against guys who are very good gliders like [Michael] Walchhofer and Fritz [Strobl]. Those two guys put down some exceptional runs in training and I had a really bad feeling all three days of skiing in the training run. I didn’t really have a run where I put it all together. One thing I know, between training and racing, is for me I test a lot of lines, I test a lot of possibilities on how the ski will run. Wengen it’s very difficult to get to think a lot about your tactics and how you need to ski that hill and put together a good run. I just got all the expectations out of my head as far as a great result there and just tried to keep it simple and ski that hill. That’s pretty much what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to ski it, you’ve got to race it, look for good flow, and I found that on race day. It’s amazing how you can rebound sometimes. Have a really crappy day, a bad feeling, but then the next day you come right back out of the box, out of the wrapper in the morning and just mentally put things together.
Questioner: If there would have been a training run today, which number would you have run?
DR: Thirteen. I always pick 13 for training days, unless I’m really trying to test out a course in light conditions around 30 on qualifying day. Thirteen is always the number I like to use. I like that number. You have a few guys to check how the conditions are and see how it’s running, but also have a pretty clean track. I don’t like starting in the top five because I like to have some sort of pace going with the time and the skiers in front of you, its always hard skiing number one, with just a few forerunners and boom! Here I go.
Questioner: Will the Olympics be the hill for you?
DR: Could be. We’ll see. Last time it was a good hill for me.
Ski Racing: You have a little bit of a rivalry going with Hermann Maier here.
DR: It was three-hundredths I beat him by, and he beat me by two-hundredths last year â€¦ that’s a lot of close racing. Those two races mean pretty much we’re equal. It’s so tight, not a lot of time. A win’s a win. Doesn’t matter if you win by a second or win by a hundredth. It’s still about staying on top of the next guy. It would really feel better to win by more. It’s just tough.
Ski Racing: Daron, exactly where have you done well on this course. Is it at the top, the bottom, is there some place that you’ve mastered first?
DR: I really haven’t mastered any part of this course. But I did well at the top split, on the Steilhang I’m always top three, top five, every training run, every race I do well up their. It’s the line I choose and how I ski up there. The toughest part for me is from the Steilhang all the way to Seidlalm. I have to make sure I take a lot of speed onto the Steilhang and ski that really well, take a ton of speed on the road, because that’s the one spot I’m going to have a disadvantage, like all the little guys. But from the Seidlalm down, I ski really well through the Laerchenschuss. That’s been one of my best sections there. Then the Hausbergkante. From there down, I love that section at Kitzbuehel. That’s the toughest section on the World Cup circuit.
Ski Racing: Is it set slightly different there this year?
DR: A little different placement of the gates. Just below the Mausefalle, the right-hand turn before the left-footer that turns onto the Steilhang, the gate are moved a little out more. It’s really difficult when you come off the top jump, the Mausefalle, and come into that right-footed turn. You push all the way out onto the edge of this crest. The speeds are so high. It’s so quick and you don’t really anticipate that. That’s a little different section. Everything else is pretty much the same.
Ski Racing: Does it make it a different turn or a faster turn?
DR: Just the timing. The timing needs to be right on. You have to be a little earlier on the ski. That’s pretty much the only difference. That’s the only thing that caught me off-guard on the training run.
Questioner: Do you think you can spoil the party for the Austrian ski team?
DR: I have as good a chance as a lot of other guys. The best thing is knowing that, recognizing that, getting in the gate and know that I’m one of the contenders, one of the guys who could stand on top the podium. It all comes down to how you are going to ski, how you are going to execute the run. It’s more incentive – this is the greatest place in the world to ski race, Austria, because of the fans, the excitement, the energy. Of any other place in the world, this is where I want to be on top.
Questioner: Not the Olympics?
DR: Or that too. There’s a lot of places I’d like to be on top. I don’t think about the Olympics tomorrow or the next day.
Questioner: Do you use training runs to gain confidence for the race?
DR: There’s a lot of possibilities. Downhill is all about line. There’s so much distance between the gates that if you ski a little straighter than everybody else, you cut off 10 meters of line, which is pretty easy to do sometimes. It makes a huge difference. Even three or five meters of line then you’ve got a different fall line, you’ve got to really think it through and ski the hill searching for as much gravity and pull as possible. We can’t push back the throttle and accelerate. You have to really loo
k for a tighter line or let it run down the hill.
Questioner: How do you prepare for the course?
DR: With one training run you have to make the most of it. In Wengen I was lucky to have a lot of chances to play around with lines of skiing. Now I’ve got to look at a lot of different guys. What I did on the first day of training, kind of pick apart the hill basically, put together a good plan and go out there and try to execute that plan. It comes down to who can ski the cleanest line, cleanest, tightest line. That’s what it comes down to.
Questioner: Do you memorize and then visualize?
DR: We use a lot of computer technology. We can put split screens up. You can see … it’s definitely shows a difference. We don’t have the technology on our team to do overlays like the Austrians or the Swiss do. So you can do split screens that tell you exactly where to go. That stuff helps.
Questioner: If you have a high number on Saturday, will you watch the other racers on the television at the start?
DR: I don’t watch the other guys. I have a plan, I stick with it. I talk to my coaches, have something figured out and they know exactly what I’m going to be doing on the hill. If things change, they tell me and I just correct it in my head before I run it.
Questioner: So the plan already exists?
DR: Saturday morning, after inspection.
Questioner: So having just one training run, can you judge what your line is going to be?
DR: Tomorrow night I look at the video and try to figure out who was fastest selecting, how do I compare to them, try to figure out the best tactics there, then go up on the hill, look at it again and decide at that point how I’m going to run it.
Questioner: When you do that, your judgments are mainly right?
DR: For the most part. Sometimes when you watch on TV you get a different perspective. It could look easier or tougher than it is, sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s tougher. Sometimes that puts the wrong thought in your head. Sometimes I’ve watched TV and it’s worked out for me, but more of the time, when I’ve watched and I’ve changed something in my head, it’s changed my plan and it really hasn’t helped me. So I try to stay away from that. I try to stay away from watching the guys, just focus on what I’ve got to do and just rely on the reports from coaches, because we’re all together and I trust what they have to say.
Questioner: Daron, do you have any idea about your feelings afterwards? Will there be some emptiness after you finish the last Kitzbuehel downhill?
DR: I don’t think so. I think at the end of the season it will be different. It’s hard to say. It’s really hard to say until you’ve experienced that moment. This is definitely, if you are going to miss anything, it’s this. That’s why it’s been tough to be off skis, not taking a training run, because it’s fun to ski this hill, bottom line. I want every chance I can to ski this hill.