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Americans make early exits in men's ski cross

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Daron Rahlves is arguably the greatest men's downhill skier in U.S. history. He gave that up for this?

For an injured hip? To be taken out by a Frenchman?

"I love anything on skis," Rahlves said. "(Ski cross) is better for me now, because you don't have to travel as much, and you don't have to put as much time into it. Maybe that's why the outcome was what it was today."

Ski cross, the newest Olympic skiing discipline born in the X Games, is "motorcross on skis." It is the same head-to-head racing featured in snowboard cross, which debuted in Turin four years ago.

The ski cross course features a series of twists and turns and jumps that four skiers navigate at once in a tournament-style format. Collisions and crashes are part of the sport, and seven of Sunday's 16 races at Cypress Mountain featured at least one.

"Because you're putting four guys at a time, that gives you eight poles, 12 edges, and guys are racing down a course with huge jumps up to 100 feet through the air, going 60 mph, and the first guy to the bottom wins," Jamaican Errol Kerr said. "How fun would it be watching NASCAR if it was just racing the clock? I think we all watch Daytona for the last four laps, right, when everybody is pushing it, and cars are getting loose and getting wild, and that's what we see right here."

The fans enjoyed it as much as the skiers did as Switzerland's Michael Schmid, who is first in the World Cup standings, was the fastest man down in the final Sunday. Austria's Andreas Matt took the silver, and Norway's Audun Groenvold was the bronze medalist.

Canada's Chris Del Bosco, an American with dual citizenship through his father, was third in the final before crashing on the next-to-last jump to finish fourth.

"He was going for it," said Dave Ellis, the high performance director for Canada Ski Cross. "It's a move that is a tough one to pull off. It's a big jump, and he had a lot of speed. He just kind of got off balance in the air and didn't manage to land on his feet like the cat normally does.

"No one is holding back here. This is the Olympics."

Americans Rahlves and Casey Puckett — both of whom insist this is their last Olympics — had no chance because of recent injuries. Neither got out of the first-round. Rahlves crashed near the end of his heat and finished third, 28th overall. Puckett finished fourth in his heat and 23rd overall.

Rahlves, 36, dislocated his right hip at the X Games on Jan. 31. He said his hip was "fine" Sunday, but physically, he probably wasn't 100 percent. In his crash with Ted Piccard of France, Rahlves protected his hip by pulled his legs up and landing on his back.

Puckett, 37, had a dislocated shoulder surgically repaired Jan. 13 and then broke a small bone in the shoulder two weeks later.

"One month ago, I was on the operating table," Puckett said. "I've done everything I can to get healthy and get here and do a good performance, and I don't think I was ready. I was as ready as I could be. My shoulder wasn't that painful, but I just didn't have the power to get out of the gate."

The course didn't allow for a lot of passing, and in most races, the first skier out of the gate won the race. Kerr blamed the track design.

"What's the hardest part here is they're trying to build a course that the male skiers and the women's snowboarders can use," Kerr said. "That's like trying to fit a race track that's good for a Volkswagen Beetle and a Formula One car. There's just a significant speed difference between a female snowboarder and a male skier."

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