Rahlves looks to new event

Third time did not prove lucky for Alpine skier Daron Rahlves, so the American turned to a wild and new Olympic sport that he hopes will deliver a long-awaited medal next month in Vancouver.


The 36-year-old skier will be among a group of athletes racing down a mountain shoulder-to-shoulder when ski-cross makes its Olympic debut.

"I never even thought there was the slightest chance I'd ever be back going to another Olympics," Rahlves said in an interview just before being named to the U.S. Olympic team. "I was done with racing. Now here we are, going for the fourth one."

Rahlves won 12 Alpine ski World Cup races and did well at world championships, taking super-G gold in 2001 and two medals -- downhill silver and giant slalom bronze -- in 2005. But he failed to win a medal in three successive Winter Olympics and retired from Alpine racing after the 2006 Games.

The Californian decided it was time to leave the gruelling Alpine circuit and spend more time at home and start a family.

In 2007, after realising that his "competitive blood" continued to boil, Rahlves took up ski-cross -- a sport that involves head-to-head racing down a course filled with curves, jumps and lots of potential for crashing.

Ski-cross has long been a staple at the Winter X Games but will now be a full-medal sport in the Olympic line-up after it received recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"Who wouldn't like skiing fast over what is basically like a roller coaster? It's so fun," said Rahlves, who added that the proximity of ski-cross races to his home was a bonus.

For Rahlves, the father of young twins, his passion for speed and lack of fear has served him well in the mayhem of ski-cross which some observers describe as roller derby on skis.

After figuring out the basics and improving his start, Rahlves used his strong Alpine background to win gold in the 2008 Winter X Games.

Rahlves competes in only a few races on the World Cup circuit given his desire to spend more time at home with his wife and children. Family devotion, he admits, has cost him as the sport has grown rapidly in the past few years leading up to the Olympics.

"This level of skilled athletes has increased so much in the last few years," he said in a telephone interview while travelling home from a fourth-place finish at a recent World Cup race in Lake Placid, New York.

"Before, I could just show up without any training and be pretty competitive. But now you've got to get back to testing skis, you've got to train and work out.

"I still feel more of a rookie than some of these guys who are 25 years old," he said. "Those guys have skied a lot more ski-cross events than I have."

Still, Rahlves said he was on track for a good showing at the Winter X Games later this week.

After that he plans to train with team mate Casey Puckett, another Alpine skier and four-time Olympian who has defected to ski-cross, in the run-up to the Olympics, where Rahlves feels the sport will receive a rousing response.

"This is one of the best ones out there -- there's going to be a ton of excitement," he said "You see guys go at it in head-to-head action...that's really exciting.

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