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TORINO: Alpine: Rahlves ditches special skis at last minute; Miller disapproves

TORINO: Alpine: Rahlves ditches “special” skis at last minute; Miller disapprovesSESTRIERE, Italy – American Daron Rahlves came within two minutes of using an experimental pair of capped skis in the Olympic men’s downhill, but switched onto a more established pair just before his start.

Bode Miller, who used the “secret weapon” skis and finished fifth, said Rahlves made the wrong choice.

“A minute forty-five,” said Rahlves, when Ski Racing asked him how close he came to using the capped Atomics. Ski Racing first reported on the special skis Saturday on its Web site.

“I think Tom saw that Bode [Miller] didn’t crush it, so he thought maybe it was those skis, and he made a super quick transition,” said Rahlves, referring to Tom Buergler, one of the Atomic servicemen who works for Rahlves and Miller.

“I said, ‘All right, I’ll go on the skis I know well,’ ” said Rahlves, speaking as he walked through an alleyway behind the media zone at the downhill finish.

Miller raced to fifth place on the capped skis, and said that he was disappointed Rahlves didn’t take his recommendation and use the other pair.

“He had them up there and he was totally prepared to race and made a last-minute switch, which was definitely not the right choice, in my mind,” Miller told Ski Racing before leaving the finish area. “I was super bummed. I thought he skied on them and then I saw his run and I was bummed out.”

Miller went on to say that the skis were excellent, even though they didn’t perform Sunday exactly the way they did in Saturday’s training run.

“Maybe I was a little bit more forward today than I was yesterday on some of those long sweeping turns,” Miller said. “That maybe affected the speed a little bit, because yesterday they were super, super clean on those long turns, and they didn’t feel quite as zippy today.”

There are only two pairs of the Atomic capped downhill skis in existence, according to a serviceman, and Miller and Rahlves were prepared to use them both.

Atomic uses capped construction for its giant slalom and slalom skis, but not for downhill. One downhiller who skied on Atomics before retiring last spring said Saturday night that he’d never seen an Atomic capped downhill ski before.

Atomic throws a massive amount of resources at its top two American pilots. At the start of the season, Atomic’s race director Rudi Huber estimated that Miller and Rahlves had 150 to 200 pairs of skis at their disposal. (Click here to read an interview with Huber.)

Miller began urging Rahlves to try the capped skis on Saturday, after Miller effectively won the final training run on them.

Miller’s encouragement was so enthusiastic that Rahlves went up on a training slope in Sestriere on Saturday afternoon and freeskied on them. Rahlves liked what he felt, and Buergler prepared them for Sunday’s race, along with the other pair that were brought to the start as a backup option.

It’s rare that servicemen bring multiple pairs of skis to the start, but it turned out to be a good choice because Buergler suddenly had doubts after Miller’s run and had Rahlves click out of the capped skis and onto the other pair.

Rahlves said he ended up using a “sister pair” of the skis he used in the first training run at Sestriere.

“They were killer skis, they felt great, but I’d rather be walking out there,” said Rahlves, nodding toward the finish area where Antoine Deneriaz of France moved toward the podium.

Rahlves passed on even using a pair of skis he calls the ‘Bormio Bombs’ because they came out of the factory the week before he raced them to victory at that race.

‘We haven’t pulled those things out since then’ said Rahlves last week at Chamonix. ‘We’ve just been skiing on our other new skis. Just saving those. I think they might be good for Sestriere because I think those snow conditions might be similar.’

Indeed, the Sestriere track is similar Bormio, with aggressive snow the length of the course. Although the top of the course is injected with water that makes it icy, the rest of the course is merely hard snow — something the organizers hoped for.

‘It’s not so icy for the Olympics because some guys from, I don’t know, Chile and Brazil, are skiing’ said Buergler, naming two countries not known for dominating the downhill discipline.

On Wednesday, U.S. Ski Team servicemen checking the snow crystals with magnifying glasses were surprised to find that they were not sharp but well-rounded. Partly that might be because so many course workers are slipping the course. About 600 people are working on the slope, and the constant friction created by their skis is dulling the snow crystals.

Atomic said it brought 300 pairs of skis and 30 staffers to Sestriere for the Games. The company replaced the second buckle of each racer’s boot with a buckle painted with that racer’s country — Finlay Mickel with a Union Jack, Rahlves with the Stars and Stripes.

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