Schmid, Del Bosco finish 1-2 in skicross prelims 

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and all muscle, Michael Schmid and Andreas Matt are not people you'd like to run into in a dark alley.

Or on a skicross course, for that matter.

The Swiss and Austrian skiers are among the big boys of the newest Olympic sport — skicross, which made its debut Sunday morning in the tame qualifying round. Schmid qualified first, ahead of Canadian Chris Del Bosco and France's Xavier Kuhn. Matt had the fourth-fastest time.

Later on Sunday comes the real show: Four-man heats down the 3,750-foot course filled with sharp turns, bumps and rollers. Add in speeds of more than 30 mph, some stray ski edges and a few flying ski poles and — well — sometimes things get a little dicey.

Some people call it NASCAR on skis. Others say it's a simple test of bravery and sanity, especially if you're not the biggest guy in the field.

"Everyone has their size, and it's all advantageous in one way or another," said American Casey Puckett, who qualified 18th, and measures in at around 5-10, 200. "Small guys can get out of the gate quickly. Big guys can get their mass going fast down the hill. We all try to play to our advantages."

Puckett and his American teammate, Daron Rahlves, are former Alpine racers resurrecting their careers on the skicross course. Rahlves is the most decorated American downhiller with 12 World Cup victories, but has been shut out in three Olympics. Puckett is in his fifth Olympics and also still looking for a medal.

Puckett is overcoming shoulder injuries suffered during a crash in a World Cup race last month. Rahlves dislocated his hip during a nasty tumble at the Winter X Games three weeks ago. He has only returned to training in the last couple of days.

"A lot of things were lining up for me that I wasn't able to do," Rahlves said. "But it's the Olympics, just something where you have to give it a shot. And here I am. It was a quick recovery. It feels good."

Rahlves qualified 24th, which puts him in the first race against Schmid, the Swiss rider who is ranked No. 1 in the world. Like so many top skicrossers, Schmid is a former downhill skier who has found a better gig racing in tight quarters.

"It's a very attractive sport for the people," he said. "It can be even more popular."

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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