Thursday, April 24, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Bode Miller leads men’s downhill training; women delayed

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Bode Miller is at his fifth Olympics and already owns a U.S.-record five Alpine medals, so in many ways he certainly already has, as he put it Thursday, “been here and done this.”

While Miller’s past accomplishments, plus propensity for saying whatever is on his mind, might have made him an athlete to keep an eye on during the Sochi Games anyway, his skiing still can grab headlines. Miller delivered the fastest opening downhill training run ahead of Sunday’s race, finishing in 2 minutes, 7.75 seconds.

“He’s been fast this whole season, but especially these last three weeks,” said Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who tied for eighth in Thursday’s training and, like Miller, won a medal of each color at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “And this is also a course that should be good for him. So I’m not surprised.”

The women’s downhill training was interrupted for about an hour while the lip of a dangerous jump was flattened by machines. Only three racers went down the hill before the delay, and one got hurt. Anna Fenninger of Austria turned in the best time, 1:41.73, followed by Fraenzi Aufdenblatten of Switzerland and Julia Mancuso of the U.S. (Defending champion Lindsey Vonn is sidelined after right knee surgery.)

Mancuso is the sort of athlete who says the sorts of things the folks who run the Olympics might like — and perhaps expect — to hear about participating.

“I just still really get excited,” she said. “My Olympic experience is really exciting, and I just get fueled by the energy, and it doesn’t matter if it’s my first time or my fourth time.”

And then there’s Miller.

“Not to take anything away from the Olympics,” he said, a pair of sunglasses perched atop the “USA” blue wool cap on his head, “but it just isn’t the same after I’ve done it as many times as I have.”

He made his debut at the 1998 Nagano Games, won a pair of silvers four years later in Salt Lake City, boasted about his late-night partying while failing to even finish three of five events in Turin in 2006, then left Vancouver in 2010 with a gold in super combined, silver in super-G and bronze in downhill.

Miller’s also a two-time overall World Cup champion, a man who has started 430 races on the circuit, earning 33 wins and another 45 top-three finishes.

All of which means he’s very talented at what he does — a good thing, naturally — and has plenty of experience — not necessarily good, in Miller’s view.

Let him explain.

“It can be a hindrance to be in your fifth Olympics, with 400-something World Cups behind you: I do get less nervous; I do get less excited. I’m much more focused, and I’m hoping that kind of trade-off works in my favor,” Miller said. “But I definitely can see, from my perspective now, some of my competitors, in a way, have an advantage over me.”

Teammate Marco Sullivan was asked how Miller has changed, not only as a ski racer but as a person.

The query drew a hearty laugh.

“The relationship between Bode and I and all the guys is pretty much on the ski hill,” Sullivan said. “I can say the way Bode skis is really similar to when I first saw him ski. … He skis hard, skis technically amazingly well, and he’s fast, and he wants to win. Super-competitive. And I don’t know — he’s Bode.”

Two years ago, Miller injured his left knee during a Sochi Olympic test run on the same course used Thursday. He wound up needing surgery, then sat out all of last season.

He’s in much better shape than he was for Vancouver, he says, and has trimmed about 20 pounds from his frame. He finished second in a World Cup giant slalom in Beaver Creek in December, then had a pair of top-three finishes in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month.

Miller himself will say he does not glide as well as many other racers, but he can find other places to make up time.

“I have areas where I can beat them, where I’m sneakier,” Miller said, “where I can look at (the) line and know that I can do something that maybe hasn’t been done before.”

The first three starters in the women’s run soared too high off the jump down the home stretch. Daniela Merighetti of Italy hurt both knees during her too-hard landing. They were among those complaining that the forerunners who went down the slope to check on the course weren’t going fast enough to really test whether that jump would be too difficult for the competitors.

“The problem is,” said Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, who was fourth, “we don’t have really good test runners and forerunners.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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