Miller wins, ties Mahre’s record
Vail, CO Colorado
WENGEN, Switzerland ” Bode Miller always wanted to be the best American skier ever. With one more win, he will.
Miller matched Phil Mahre’s U.S. record of 27 World Cup victories by winning the Lauberhorn downhill for the second year in a row, charging through the lower part of the course to win in 2 minutes, 30.40 seconds.
With two straight downhill victories ” he also won in Bormio, Italy, on Dec. 29 ” and a sudden rediscovery of his slalom form, the 30-year-old American is a good bet to pass Mahre before the season ends.
“I remember when I was young it was one of my goals. I wanted to be the best American skier ever,” Miller said. “I think that’s what I am. It’s nice to have the numbers to back that up.”
Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark won a record 86 World Cup races during his career.
Didier Cuche of Switzerland was second, 0.65 seconds back, and Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Canada was third, 1.33 behind Miller.
Miller’s win also thrust him back into the race for the overall World Cup title. In 2005, Miller became the first American to win the large crystal globe since Mahre did it more than two decades earlier. But Miller finished third and fourth the last two years amid a miserable loss of form in the slalom, once a preferred event.
Miller completed a slalom run Friday to finish third in a super-combi. He then was fifth in the slalom Saturday ” his best finish since winning in Sestriere, Italy, on Dec. 13, 2004, the season he won the overall title.
“If I go out and ski 100 percent and don’t make any mistakes, I have a good chance to win,” said Miller, appearing more relaxed and laughing more often than the skier who often clashed with journalists, coaches and officials in recent years.
“If I ski well, I can win in all four events.”
Miller, who broke away from the U.S. ski team to compete on his own this season, has 611 points and trails only Benjamin Raich of Austria in the overall standings. He is also only a point behind Cuche in the race for the downhill title.
“January doesn’t matter so much,” said Miller, who followed his win on the Lauberhorn last year with five disqualifications and only one top-three finish in his final 15 races. “It’s March that matters.”
In recent seasons, Miller and U.S. skiing officials appeared worn out amid endless confrontations over rules such as those that didn’t allow him to sleep in his motor home at races. This season, Miller not only has his RV, he also hired a bus to house and transport his personal coaches, made up mostly of former U.S. staff members.
Miller has named his breakaway squad “Team America.” He still wears a U.S. uniform when he races to conform with World Cup rules, but puts on his red “Team America” jacket as soon as he takes his skis off.
Miller said the greater control over his training regimen has helped him feel fresher this year and, hopefully, avoid the midseason burnout he has often experienced.
“I’m in better shape now than I was last year,” he said. “My fitness is good enough that I can go out from the start and give 100 percent the whole way.”
The historic downhill course on the Lauberhorn varies widely, featuring both the fastest and slowest stretches on the men’s tour. The straight Hanegg section pushes racers to speeds up to 94 mph and a narrow passage over a bridge in a curve forces them to slow to 44 mph.
At 2.8 miles, the Lauberhorn is also the longest course.
Miller trailed Osborne-Paradis at the first split, and failed to match Cuche’s speed under the water station tunnel where skiers duck under the Jungfrau region’s famed cog railway midway down the course.
But Miller pulled away on the long, gliding sections in the second half of the course. After clearing the famous jump into the finish, he looked at his time and pumped his fist.
“He’s really able to carve super clean turns in different situations better than anyone in the world,” U.S. coach Phil McNichol said. “That’s his gift.”
Perfect weather and course preparation took some of the bite out of the Lauberhorn, which has been the site of gruesome accidents over the years.
In 1991, Austrian rookie Gernot Reinstadler died from massive internal injuries after crashing on the final “S” turn before the finish line. Adrien Duvillard of France suffered serious head trauma in 1997 after hitting the fencing at more than 55 mph.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.