Saturday, December 5, 2009
Janka edges teammate Cuche
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- A buzz built as Bode Miller sped his way down the slope to the strains of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," risking, rollicking and even scraping his glove along the snow at one point to make sure he stayed upright.
Yes, folks, Bode's back.
Miller finished fourth behind Switzerland's Carlo Janka in a World Cup downhill Saturday, proving to anyone who might have harbored any doubts that, with the Vancouver Olympics about 2½ months away, the 32-year-old American is capable of competing with the best.
"When the conditions are fairly even, like they are today, there's no question that I have the ability to win races," said Miller, who nearly skied out twice before righting himself. "But little things like mistakes have always been an issue for me. If I had a clean run today, I think I would have been on top of the podium."
Instead, Janka took that top spot for the second time in less than 24 hours, completing the Birds of Prey downhill course in 1 minute, 43.49 seconds, only 0.02 ahead of teammate Didier Cuche, and 0.04 in front of defending overall champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.
On Friday, Janka led another 1-2 finish for Switzerland in a super combined event, and he now leads the overall World Cup standings thanks to four podium finishes already.
"What can I say? Amazing weekend for me here," said Janka, a 23-year-old who doubled his career World Cup victory total in two days.
Miller, of Franconia, N.H., came in 0.45 seconds off the pace -- by far his best showing of the season. Andrew Weichbrecht of Lake Placid, N.Y., was the next-best U.S. finisher, in 11th place, followed by Marco Sullivan of Squaw Valley, Calif., in 14th.
While the Swiss are showing that they could be primed for a dominant Winter Games, Miller flashed signs that he once again will command attention, too.
"That was an inspirational run. That was a wild ride," U.S. Ski Team men's coach Sasha Rearick said. "He skied tactically pretty smart, which was great. But he skied aggressive."
The way Miller attacks a slope leaves him open to making errors along the way, but he's never been about results, necessarily -- he certainly never expressed disappointment about his no-medal Turin Olympics, for example.
Instead, he craves speed. The two-time overall World Cup champion reached 75 mph Saturday, and along the way nearly toppled over on the upper part of the course, putting a hand down to save himself, then veered to the right lower down before maintaining control.
"Mistakes are acceptable when you push the way that I was pushing today. I was trying to do a lot, really. I was taking a really aggressive line and not backing off anywhere," Miller said. "And, you know, this course, if you do that -- if you want to win, that's sort of usually what you have to do."
It certainly was an encouraging showing for a guy who acknowledges his fitness level is not where it needs to be because he got a late start on training. Miller cut short his 2008-09 season to spend time with his baby daughter in California, then contemplated staying away from the circuit altogether in the run-up to the 2010 Olympics.
By the time he came around to deciding to race this season -- and to rejoin the U.S. team after competing independently since May 2007 -- Miller was way behind everyone else in preparation.
When he finished Saturday's run, Miller leaned forward and put his hands on his knees, his chest heaving.
"On the bottom, my legs just aren't as strong as they should be right now," he said. "The fitness level ... is going to be an issue for a little while still. It's just hard to train a lot and get the fitness moving forward while you're racing all the time, like I am. But that'll come around. It's just I just started much, much later than I ever have before."
That showed in his previous four World Cup races this season: 29th in a downhill, 39th in a super-G, and two "Did Not Finish" listings. On Friday, he stumbled during the slalom portion of the super combined and wound up falling headfirst into the snow.
Saturday, though, was a different story.
"Maybe it's a good thing he didn't work out so much this summer," Svindal said with a chuckle. "Then we would have trouble."