Ski tips down, Bode
BEAVER CREEK – You know it was going to be spectacular either way.When Bode Miller throttled the downhill during the first leg of Thursday’s super combined at Birds of Prey, there was a buzz in the air.His Bode-ness is back or how is he going to blow it?No disrespect to Aksel Lund Svindal, who had a magnificent slalom run and the consistency in both disciplines to win Thursday, but Miller simply collapsed.Yes, we’ve seen it many times – probably about the number of times he’s won as well – but Thursday was particularly glaring. This was a win for the taking.Austria’s Christoph Gruber was in second after the downhill portion, but he wasn’t going to, and didn’t do anything in the slalom. (Watch Gruber in today’s downhill, though. He’s hot.) When Switzerland’s Didier Cuche was disqualified between runs, Miller led his nearest legitimate challenger – Austria’s Mario Scheiber – by 1.01 seconds.
It should have been over then – and it really should have been a done deal when few made a move in the slalom. Yes, Rainer Schoenfelder and Svindal ran pristine slaloms, but they both put themselves in too big of a hole in the downhill.Miller had 2.04 seconds – an eternity – on Svindal by the time he got to the start gate. I know Miller’s style is to push the limits. It’s gotten him to where he is in World Cup circles. It got him to the 2004-05 overall title. It delivered World Championship gold medals in 2003 and 2005.That doesn’t mean this approach should be frozen in snow. Go back to his overall title year. He tore up the speed events and looked like he was going to run away with the title. Yet he botched the slalom discipline that year with numerous DNFs, and the overall race went down to the final weekend of the season. The year before, he missed out narrowly on the overall with DNFs at Birds of Prey. There is a merit to to pulling it bck a notch and finishing, not only to get into the top 30 for points, but on days like Thursday – to win.People will say that this is the only way Miller can ski. I don’t buy it.Miller is a great athlete, but the great ones know the situation. In baseball, the best hit behind the runner in a close game. If you have a lead in football, you run the ball and stay inbounds to keep the clock running.And when you have a 2.04-second lead in a super combined, you put the ski tips down.
That having been said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Miller comes out today and wins the downhill. He’s not the sort of guy who dwells on a ghastly defeat like he endured Thursday. He’s perfectly capable of shaking it off and starting anew, a mental quality of a great athlete in his or her sport.But until Miller learns another part of the mind game – knowing the situation and managing it accordingly – he won’t be one of the true greats of his sport.Hop on the busOne of the things you’ve got to love about the World Cup: After post-race interviews, I headed down to the shuttle stop. After I boarded, who shows up, but Svindal? At what other sporting event do you end up on a bus with the hero of the day? An Austrian oompah-band then boards, the shuttle takes off and 70s disco starts piping through the bus. The bus driver has the good sense of humor to flick the lights in the seating area on and off to the beat of “My Sharona.” Priceless.Thoughts on super combi
Thursday’s winners like the new format for a combined with one downhill and only one slalom, but not for the obvious reason – being on the podium.”If you look at the top five today, all of them are good slalom skiers,” Svindal said. “If it was two runs of slalom, it would be an even bigger advantage for the slalom skiers. The way it is now, I think it’s fair. I think it was better than it was before. When the combined is mixed into the normal downhill and the normal slalom, you have to be some kind of mathematical genius to figure out who’s winning. This way it’s easier for the people watching TV at home. … The future of the combined the way I see it is this, and not like the classical we have at Kitzbuehel, (Austria).””There is a new discipline, but we should not over-discuss about which one has (the advantage) – the downhill or the slalom racer,” Austrian Schoenfelder said. “If you look at the discipline and look at the results today, the top-seven are (from) seven different nations, and that’s very good for the sport. … For nations around the world, it is more interesting because there are more racers in front. It’s not always the same, like the Austrians.”Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.