An American affair at the World Cup GS
By Ian CroppDaily Sports WriterBEAVER CREEK – Bode Miller is not a physicist, but he could pass for a magician.During Saturday’s World Cup giant slalom, Miller skied on edge, and at one point on his hip, as he negotiated several impossible looking turns en route to a first-place finish.”If you guys know physics, that didn’t make any sense,” Miller said of one of his turns around a gate that had the crowd holding its breath. “I made my feet go around (the gate) without any of the laws of physics applying, but it’s exciting when you can have that kind of recovery.”After Miller’s magic acts, he said he was physically drained, but emotionally pumped up enough to let out a ‘war cry’ as he willed his way through the last four gates. Too bad nobody could hear it.The crowd, which had let out its own war cry for the entire run, erupted when Miller crossed the finish line.”I didn’t even know if I had won yet, but I already had a huge … grin on my face. That’s how excited I was,” Miller said. “Those recoveries are in a different league.” Miller’s recoveries allowed him to finish in a time of 2 minutes, 34.56 seconds (1:16.14-1:18.42), nearly a half-second ahead of teammate Daron Rahlves (2:35.05, 1:16.42-1:18.63), who placed second. Finland’s Kalle Palander (2:35.79, 1:16.14-1:19.65) edged out American Erik Schlopy (2:35.80, 1:16.87-1:18.93) to round out the podium.Rahlves didn’t give the crowd as much of a scare as Miller, but put together two great runs for his best GS World Cup finish.”I came in and fed off of yesterday,” Rahlves said, who won Friday’s downhill event, edging out Miller. “With the conditions today, you needed to bring the intensity the whole way. I steeped beyond what I expected.”
Palander was tied for first with Miller going into his second run, but unlike Miller, Palander wasn’t able to fully recover from rough turns on the bottom of the course. “It’s more pressure when you see some guys around you like Bode and Daron,” Palander said.American physicsMiller wasn’t the only racer who seemed to be reinventing science. On his first run, Schlopy ignored the laws of physics, and a lot of pain, racing through several gates without a pole, and with a broken left hand. Despite his collision with the base of one of the gates, Schlopy was only 0.73 seconds off the lead.”Last year in a race, I lost a pole and lost two seconds, so coming in fourth, I was psyched,” Schlopy said. “There are a lot of guys out there who can ski great without a pole, but I’m not one of them.”For his second run, Schlopy had his hand wrapped, then taped to his pole, as he was unable to squeeze his hand.Even without much use of his left hand, Schlopy didn’t change his racing strategy for the second run.”I’m going for it,” Schlopy said in between runs. “I’ve had enough of this conservative stuff.”Schlopy’s second run was good enough to retain fourth place, and only .01 second shy of putting him on the podium.”To be the third-best American and be in fourth place, that’s something,” Schlopy said after his second run.A gracious Palander not only expressed his enthusiasm for Schlopy’s finish, but was apologetic for breaking up a possible American sweep.
“It’s really nice to have Erik close to being back on the podium,” Palander said. “And it’s a little sad for me that it was just one-hundredth of a second, but maybe next time.”Change of perspectiveFor both Miller and Rahlves, Saturday’s results begged major career issues.Miller has contemplated quitting and struggled with motivation, but said this week has been a lot of fun for him.”I brought a huge amount of intensity and motivation … and that’s sort of the same idea,” Miller said. “You need the right kind of circumstance. You can’t just manufacture motivation out of thin air, although I’ve tried to for the past few years. Coming to a place where your family is there, and your home crowd, these are things that can make the process a little easier. It made a difference for me.”And while Miller would love to feel like he did this week every week, he isn’t sure it can happen yet.”It doesn’t mean it will come every race, and it doesn’t mean it will come any easier, but I do put in a conscious thought trying to find a way I can get it out of myself because it’s a lot more fun to race with that kind of intensity and motivation.”Rahlves, who may hang up the skis after this year, finds himself at the top of the World Cup standings.”Michelle (Rahlves’ wife) has been making me think about (retiring) for four years, and I’ve been kind of pushing it further every year, and it seems like I get better every year,” Rahlves said. “You want to keep going, but (being first in World Cup standings) doesn’t change anything. But you’d want to walk away from the sport being at top. There’s a lot of things I’ve accomplished, but there’s a want to go even further.”While Rahlves has yet to win a World Cup GS, he thinks says it’s something he’d like to do this year.”I’d like to be able to win in the three events I ski,” Rahlves said.Schlopy’s finish helped usher in what had been on hiatus for him last year – his confidence.
“I am really excited because last year I had some issues with my confidence,” Schlopy said. “And coming back from injury, I worked so hard this summer to get my confidence back. You only get so many opportunities, especially when you are 33. They are running out and I want to make the most of them.”Down the lineFor the final five racers on the second run of the GS, the lead changed hands many times. Before the Americans held the hot seat, Austria’s Mario Matt, who started third on the second run, sat in the leader’s seat for a while.”The start position in the second run can be a tremendous advantage,” said U.S. coach Phil McNichol. “Mario moved up from starting (47th) and finished 12th overall.”Canada’s Francois Bourque, who finished started the second run 16th, took the lead from Matt. Bourque finished the race sixth.Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who finished fifth, took the lead from Bourque, but then saw it slide away to Schlopy two racers later. Rahlves then bested Schlopy, roaring the crowd even more at prospect of an all American podium.A silent crowd waited as Palander negotiated the course, barely edging out Schlopy.But the silence dissipated as Miller exited the starting gate, and captured the fourth American podium of the week.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado