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|The men's Skier X course at Buttermilk at Winter X Games 14.|
After the 2010 Winter Olympics, both Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett suggested that they may retire. And while each has greatly reduced his race schedule for 2010-11, both are returning to Winter X to compete in Skier X.
One of the favorites for gold at Winter X 2010, Rahlves' day was cut short in Skier X when he went down hard in the rhythm section during the quarterfinal and dislocated his right hip for the fourth time in his career. "I had a little more speed than I thought, and I tried to stay in the draft as long as possible," says Rahlves, now 37. "I was watching the terrain and not the person in front of me."
When Rahlves was taken off the course in a sled and sent to the Aspen Valley Hospital, his chances of making a fourth Olympic appearance less than a month later seemed slim. But he remained positive that he would return for Vancouver.
With the assistance of a PRP shot, which used his own blood to help regenerate soft tissue, he was ready to go for the Olympics. "It is the best procedure ever," says Rahlves. "It was like super juice. It was the only way I was able to recover so quickly." The only thing that wasn't easy about the procedure was getting it approved by the IOC in such a short amount of time.
"Once you get within three weeks of the Olympics, things like that get tough," said Rahlves. "Luckily, a doctor in South Lake Tahoe helped me get it authorized and helped deal with all the bureaucracy."
After making three trips to the Winter Olympics for alpine skiing with no medals ('98, '02, '06), Rahlves was hoping his fourth trip for Ski Cross would be the charm. "The big motivation for me was to make it back to the Olympics," he says. "I was putting in 8- to 10-hour days doing rehab before then, and I think by the time I got in the gate I was worn down." At the Olympics, Rahlves took a big spill early in the day and finished 28th.
Rahlves wasn't the only big-name American to suffer the effects of injury at the Olympics. Casey Puckett, who won Skier X at Winter X Games in 2004 and 2007, was battling an injured left shoulder suffered in a World Cup race six weeks prior to Vancouver. Puckett had hoped to mark his fifth trip to the Olympics, this time for Ski Cross after four alpine trips, with his first medal. But the bum shoulder hampered Puckett, relegating him to 23rd.
However, just by getting in the gate, Puckett, now 38, became one of three American men to compete in five Winter Olympics. "I don't think of the last three years as a waste of time just because I didn't medal," Puckett wrote on his blog. "I did everything I could to make that podium and I have no regrets. I love the work. I love the competitions. I love the travel. I love the challenge. I walked away from Vancouver with my head held high."
The American Ski Cross team -- already one of the least supported national squads entering the 2010 Winter Olympics and knowing that their two biggest stars soon would retire (Puckett and Rahlves) -- cut funding for the discipline all together after the Olympics.
"To me, it was a slap in the face," Rahlves says. "They could have at least talked to us and asked the best way to approach this, but they just made a decision."
In its place, the American Ski Cross Association (ASCA) was formed by ski industry individuals as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting U.S. athletes in international Ski Cross competitions. The association is grooming four up-and-coming competitors during the 2011 season, three of whom will compete at Winter X: Caitlin Ciccione, Biche Rudigoz and John Teller.
While Puckett and Rahlves both have retired from competitive skiercross, they plan to be involved with the ASCA as board members and both will make one more appearance at Winter X in 2011. "There is no other place where I can get that fix or feeling," said Rahlves. "(W)X Games is the best. I'm still competitive, and it's just in my blood."