Miller bids for historic full set of world golds |

Miller bids for historic full set of world golds

Graham Dunbar
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bode Miller, of the United States, speeds down the course during the second run of the Men's Giant Slalom race, at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Val d'Isere, France, Friday, Feb. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

VAL D’ISERE, France ” Bode Miller will be bidding to make history in the men’s slalom on Sunday when the World Championships wrap up with perhaps their most hotly contested race.

In his career, Miller has won world titles in four of the five disciplines with just slalom missing from his set. No one has won all five and only Swiss great Pirmin Zurbriggen can match his set of four.

“It’s going to be tough, but I’m excited for it. I feel good physically,” Miller said. “It’s a demanding hill and you see the light can get tough when those shadows come in.”

Taking his fifth gold is the hardest step for the 31-year-old American, who won the giant slalom and combined at the 2003 worlds, then the downhill and super G two years later.

Miller hasn’t won a slalom since a World Cup race at Sestriere, Italy, in December 2004, and Sunday’s field is deep and talented.

An awesome Austrian lineup could conceivably fill the first five places, the Italians are strong, while France has waited two years since the last worlds for local boy Jean-Baptiste Grange to give the host nation the gold it craves in his best event.

“There are seven guys who all look fit and ready to race 100 percent,” Miller said. “It’s going to be who doesn’t make mistakes.”

Miller has a special regard for Marcel Hirscher, the Austrian world junior champion in slalom and giant slalom.

Hirscher was 0.07 seconds off a medal in the GS on Friday when he lost the bronze to an inspired run from Ted Ligety of the United States.

“Bode likes aggressive skiers,” Austria men’s coach Toni Giger said. “Hirscher’s taking a lot of risks. He’s 19 and has nothing to lose.”

Slalom is the Austrian men’s strong suit after a relatively poor showing at these championships. Their only medal is Benjamin Raich’s silver in GS.

“It’s the discipline with our highest expectations,” Giger said. “But big events have their own rules and we have had big surprises here.”

Austria swept the slalom medals at the 2006 Turin Olympics when Raich and Reinfried Herbst finished 1-2. Both will line up Sunday alongside Manfred Pranger, a World Cup winner at Wengen, Switzerland, last month.

Such is Austria’s strength that two-time world champion Mario Matt will defend his title as the outside chance of its five contenders.

France’s Grange won bronze behind Matt at the 2007 worlds in Are, Sweden, and has been building toward this day ever since.

The 24-year-old World Cup slalom leader will get fervent support in his home region of Rhone-Alpes, yet he might not be the best French medal hope.

Julien Lizeroux has hit a career-best run of results at age 29. He beat Grange to win his first World Cup race at Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month and got a memorable silver in the super-combi on Monday.

Placed 22nd after the downhill portion, Lizeroux charged down the icy, floodlit slalom course to set a tough time to beat. Grange and Miller then shocked the championship-best crowd of 32,000 by skiing out, leaving Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal to take gold.

Grange insists he did not collapse under the pressure and gets a second chance on Sunday.

The Frenchman is helped by the absence of his closest World Cup challenger, Ivica Kostelic. The Croatian is at home after choosing to nurse a back injury and focus on maintaining his overall lead in the World Cup standings.

Meanwhile, the Italians are mounting a low-key challenge.

Veteran Giorgio Rocca has twice won bronze at the worlds, while defending World Cup slalom champion Manfred Moelgg won at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, two weeks ago.

Ligety is also in the mix after his magnificent medal run on Friday.

“There are probably 10 guys who have a legitimate chance at winning,” the 24-year-old American said. “It’s a difficult event, but I feel in a good place to have a chance.

“It’s going to take two runs of pretty hard attacking and relatively clean runs,” Ligety said. “In slalom it’s hard to have no mistakes ” no one will get away with that.”

Aggressive skiing is likely as a forecast of sunshine should give the racers every chance to cut loose on the steep Bellevarde slope.

After hinting at retirement, this could be Miller’s last shot at a slalom world title to confirm his place in alpine skiing’s pantheon of greats.

“For sure, Bode can make the medal,” Austria coach Giger said. “Everything is possible.”

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