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Miller wins the combined at Worlds

Aspen Times Staff Report

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – After a frustrating downhill run in bad weather, the unflappable Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H., methodically turned up the heat for the two runs of slalom to win the men’s combined at the FIS Alpine World Championships Thursday.

After three races, the USA – which has medaled in an unprecedented three straight races – has four medals. Austria has three, followed by Norway with two.

In recording the closest combined victory in any World Championships, Miller had a three-run time (one downhill, two slalom) of 3:18.41. Lasse Kjus of Norway, who led the downhill, was the silver medalist in 3:18.48 with Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt, the Olympic gold medalist and three-time defending World Championships gold medalist in the combined, took third in 3:18.54.

Miller said being on the podium with the two Norwegians was akin to being on the super G podium Sunday with Austrians Stephan Eberharter and Hermann Maier – “these guys have been dominant in the sport.”

“I wasn’t skiing for second or third place today, and in the end I think that’s probably what got me there,” Miller said.

He’s the first U.S. man to win the combined gold medal since Billy Kidd won at Val Gardena, Italy, in 1970. (In 1980, when the Olympics doubled as the World Championships for the last time, Phil Mahre won the combined gold at Lake Placid, N.Y.)

Fog and gusting winds made the downhill portion of the combined a total crapshoot for some racers. Coming out of the fog at the top of the course, Miller clipped one panel and got thrown off course in a couple of other spots; he was 17th behind Kjus, 2.95 seconds back.

He conceded it would be unlikely for him to medal, “but I just kept on trying.”

“The key in combined is to ski consistently,” said Phil McNichol, the U.S. team head coach, “and Bode did just that. It’s another sign of his maturing – he didn’t try to win, try to overcome three seconds on that first run” of slalom.

Miller was “bummed” with his downhill run, McNichol said, but kept his “public face” unchanged. There was no sign of turmoil as he plotted his slalom strategy with McNichol and slalom/giant slalom head coach Martin Andersen.

“Bode’s got a pretty good poker face,” McNichol said.

Miller, 25, a product of Maine’s Carrabassett Valley Academy, shaved that margin in half during the first slalom run and whittled away the rest in his final run.

After he crossed the finish line and saw he was first – with Aamodt, Austrian Benjamin Raich and Kjus still to run – Miller gave a thumbs up sign with his right mitten to fans as he collected his breath. Then, he turned and looked uphill to see if his time would stand up for a medal.

Aamodt couldn’t match him; Miller had the bronze. Raich skied out; Miller was the silver medalist. And then Kjus couldn’t catch him – gold for Miller and the crowd went wild. He dropped to his knees, lowered his head and gathered his thoughts.

“It’s not so much I thought I didn’t have a chance. Like I’ve said, it’s combined,” Miller told a packed press conference. “You can always – people crash. In Kitzbuehel, both Kjetil and I blew out in the slalom, both in the second run of slalom, so I’m well aware of how precarious the lead can be, especially in combined. I just thought it was unlikely; there were enough guys there who were ahead of me or right with me who can ski very competitive slalom that I just thought it probably wasn’t likely.”

“But there was no question in my mind that I was gonna still go for it. I was still going for the win.”

Miller tore ligaments in his left knee two years ago when he crashed in the downhill portion of combined at the World Championships in St. Anton. A year ago at the Olympics, Miller made a miraculous save during his combined downhill and ate-up the final run of slalom as he went on to collect the silver medal behind Aamodt. Thursday, he said there were many similar feelings from a year ago.

“Actually, it’s a really similar feeling last year and this year. I had such a great run, my final run of slalom last year, and it was the Olympics, my home country, and I really felt proud to have skied so hard – and, under the circumstances, I think everyone had counted me out of the race.

“It can go either way and to know all three of us were battling up there as hard as we could all day, and skied the whole downhill through wind and snow and jumps, and made all mistakes, then we skied two runs of slalom and it came down to seven-hundredths to separate us… is amazing.”

“That feeling is the same whether you’re on either side of the hundredths. Obviously, it’s great to win the world championship, but if you put down that kind of skiing, it’s awesome either way,” Miller added.

With a delegation of his family plus girlfriend Lizzie Hoeschler and her family in the stands, Miller said the day ran a gamut of frustrations and joy. The gold medal, though, heals a lot of pain.

Asked what he thought about as he sank to the snow in victory, he said: “Just thinking about I was feeling and what a battle it had been that day. Ya know, people discount the combined as a tough event because, I think, they see the downhillers not ski the best slalom or they see the slalom skiers not ski the best downhill. But, for the top guys, the guys who can ski both to a competitive level, it’s the toughest event out there – emotionally and physically and mentally, it’s abusive all day.”

When the battle was done, Miller, who has a good sense of ski racing history, said: “I felt like when I was on the podium with Hermann and Eberharter in the super G, I was sharing the podium with the champions of the sport, and even though Aamodt was Olympic [SG] champion, those guys have been the dominant force, and it’s the same thing here – these guys have been untouchable in combined for the last eight years, or it seems like forever for me.”

Miller pointed to the Norwegians’ record: Aamodt with 11 World Championships medals and seven from the Olympics, Kjus with 11 Worlds medals and five Olympic medals.

“They’re great champions – I’ve been really honored at this Championships to share the podium with the guys I have.”


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