Austria’s Raich struggling in combined |

Austria’s Raich struggling in combined

Erica Bulman
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

ARE, Sweden ” Benjamin Raich has struggled in the combined since winning the event at the last Alpine Skiing World Championships.

The Austrian crashed out a few gates from Olympic glory last year and topped the season-ending World Cup standings only to discover there was no prize for it. This season, he’s finished no better than sixth.

But Raich is still confident.

“I am one of the favorites here,” said Raich, the reigning overall World Cup champion, though he has never raced the downhill in Are.

Raich will have some tough competition on Thursday, including Americans Bode Miller, the 2003 combined world champion, and Olympic champion Ted Ligety.

All-rounder Aksel Lund Svindal, who currently leads the overall standings, is another main challenger. The super-combi offers the 24-year-old Norwegian his best chance for a first major international title.

Miller can never be counted out especially since the race will include a new format after poor weather pushed back the championships.

The super-combi will consist of a downhill leg and a single slalom run ” instead of a downhill and two slalom runs ” which will help the slalom-challenged Miller. He has won two downhills and two super Gs this season but completed just one slalom in the last 13 months.

“Mainly, the problem is the length of the courses, and just making mistakes over that amount of time,” Miller said. “If I have a 30-second race, I’d put myself up against anybody. I’ve been dominating in training. I finish all my runs. I’ve been consistently fast. But in the races … the mistakes are continually there.”

Each nation can enter four athletes in each discipline with the defending world champion getting an automatic extra berth.

The U.S. men’s team will include Ligety, Miller and Steven Nyman. T.J. Lanning earned the fourth spot following the men’s downhill training on Wednesday.

“Slalom is our weak point,” U.S. coach Phil McNichol said. “You have to have a good slalom. I think the guys will be going well enough in downhill to be extremely competitive. We just really need to have our act together in slalom.

“How many guys (who) have won the downhill have won the combined this year? Nobody.”

Indeed, none of the winners of the seven downhill races this season have won a combined.

Though the new format would seem to even things out, the winners of the three races this season were all-arounder Svindal and technical slalom specialists Ivica Kostelic of Croatia and Mario Matt of Austria. Marc Berthod of Switzerland, who leads the combined standings after two runner-up finishes this season, is also a technical expert.

At the Olympics last year, Raich led until the last interval on the final slalom run.

Later, after winning 3-of-4 World Cup combined events that season, he thought he’d clinched the discipline title. But the International Ski Federation only awards a World Cup title if there are five events in a season.

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