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Saturday, December 5, 2009
Updated: December 6, 11:50 AM ET
Weibrecht reaches goal at Birds of Prey

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- Bode Miller is on his way back and Andrew Weibrecht appears well on his way up (though book deals and controversial "60 Minutes" interviews are probably still a ways off).

After finishing 29th and 39th last week in Lake Louise, Alberta, and failing to finish in Friday's super-combined, Miller electrified Saturday's crowd at Birds of Prey with the sort of downhill run normally reserved for the opening of a James Bond movie. He flew down the course, turning, twisting and nearly falling before gliding across the finish line with the race lead.

Andrew Weibrecht
Andrew Weibrecht's 11th-place showing Saturday helped him move into the top 30 for future downhill starts.

"Bode came out with a great, inspirational run," U.S. ski coach Sasha Rearick said. "That was fun to watch. It was exciting. He charged like hell. He made some unbelievable recoveries because he was charging so hard."

The eighth skier of the day, Miller nearly went down high on the course, but recovered in true Bode fashion and stayed on his skis.

"That was just reaction," Miller said. "I was pretty lucky to get my hand on the snow, otherwise I would have flipped all the way around and landed on my back. But I kept my hand on the snow and I got my skis back on the ground."

Miller held the lead until eventual winner Carlo Janka of Switzerland passed him three runs later and fell out of a podium spot when Swiss teammate Didier Cuche knocked him into fourth on the 21st run of the day.

"Mistakes are acceptable when you push the way I pushed today," Miller said. "I was trying to do a lot. I was taking a really aggressive line and not backing off. If you want to win on this course, that's usually what you have to do. That usually comes with a mistake, and the mistake I made on the pitch was a big one.

"I lost a lot of speed and line there. Both of the mistakes were kind of acceptable for reasons I can't really help right now. I was pushing hard on the pitch and at the bottom my legs aren't as strong as they should be right now."

While speaking with reporters, Miller said he was eager to see Weibrecht's run. And even though Weibrecht had the day's 47th run, long after the top contenders had finished their runs and interviews, and perhaps their fondues, Weibrecht turned in a superb run, good enough for 11th place. Told that Miller had waited to see him before leaving the course, Weibrecht responded, "That's awesome."

The 11th-place showing matched Weibrecht's second-best World Cup result. More importantly, Weibrecht, who had been frustrated with low start positions, moved himself into the top 30 for future downhill starts.

"It's been my goal to move into the top 30 ever since I started racing World Cup two years ago," he said. "I moved into it in super-G last year and now I am in the downhill. I think it will make things a lot nicer and help me score some better results."

Weibrecht's best World Cup result was here two years ago, when he finished 10th with a wild run that had many looking to him as the next big thing. He's showing it this season, with four finishes in the top 20 and three in the top dozen.

"Andrew has always been an aggressive skier," Rearick said. "He's always been extremely dedicated and hard-working. Over the past couple years, he's learned to ski better. He's learned the hills tactically and he's bringing that all together. That's why I'm so pleased with him.

"He's performing. He's taking the skills he's learned in training over the years and the tactics he's gained over the past couple years and putting it together. And when it's on demand in competition, he's executing those skills and tactics. That's why he's doing such a great job. He's progressing perfectly."

Marco Sullivan finished 14th, giving the Americans three skiers in the top 15. That's not as good as the Swiss, who took the first two spots plus ninth in the downhill and the top two spots in Friday's super-combined -- but it was better than the Austrians and is an indication of the United States' depth. Weibrecht said Miller's presence back on the team has been a source of help.

"I think he's a great resource both in skiing and ski culture," Weibrecht said. "He's been through it all. To have a guy like that who can help you on the hill and off the hill, it's a huge asset to our team. And I think he's going to be a huge asset to the team now that he's back."

Almost. Miller is still feeling the effects of cutting his World Cup season short last season, and then not deciding to return to the sport until late September, well into the training season.

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished third Saturday, said that lost training time shows less in the downhill than in the technical events because no one is able to get in decent downhill training over the summer.

"He'll have fast races for sure because he's a great skier, but I think it will be up and down this year," Svindal said. "He's had some fast runs, but he's also had some slow runs."

"The fitness level is going to be an issue for awhile," Miller said. "It's just hard to train a lot and get the fitness when you're racing all the time. But that will come around. I just started much, much later than I ever have before. The skiing has been there. I was second in a training run at Lake Louise. When the conditions are fairly even, there is no question I have the ability to win races."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.