Bode Miller: A Rebel with an Overall World Cup Title

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March 12, 2005

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP Eriica Bulman)--Bode Miller had the perfect reply _ to the fans who cover their eyes when he roars down the course, to the coaches who grit their teeth at his Bode-knows-best attitude, to the ski executives exasperated by this Alpine rebel.

He won skiing's most valuable prize Saturday: the World Cup overall title.

The skier who grew up in a cabin without running water or electricity deep in the New Hampshire forests became the first American skier to capture the overall since Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney in 1983.

``I've gone from being a kid everyone made fun of to a World Cup racer who could never finish to the guy who could have won the overall but crumbled at the end of the season. Then this,'' he said. ``There's been a lot of progression that I look back on with pride.''

He claimed the overall crown by finishing ahead of his only remaining challenger, Austria's Benjamin Raich, in the season's final giant slalom. Raich's only chance was to win and hope Miller finished outside the top 15.

Austria's Stephan Goergl won with a two-run time of 2 minutes, 10.51 seconds. Miller was 0.68 seconds behind, with Raich third, 0.80 back.

Miller knew the overall title was within his reach the last four years. He finished the season fourth in 2002, runner-up in 2003 and fourth again last year.

``It's been a bit embarrassing it's taken so long,'' he said. ``It was getting a bit like the Red Sox. It was a bit embarrassing because it was like a curse.''

Miller was not the only American enjoying a big day on the slopes. Sarah Schleper recorded her first career World Cup victory, winning the season's final slalom in which Janica Kostelic of Croatia finished second to close in on overall leader Anja Paerson of Sweden. Nicole Hosp of Austria was third.

Miller holds a 204-point lead over Raich, with only 100 points up for grabs in Sunday's slalom finale. Raich took the giant slalom title, finishing three points ahead of Miller, the defending champion in that discipline. Raich also was the season's slalom champ.

``Bode clearly showed us he's one of the greatest U.S. skiers ever, one of the greatest skiers in the history of the sport,'' U.S. men's coach Phil McNichol said. ``His flare, his artistry down the mountain, his grace and full gas approach is exciting and captivating.''

``It's taken this long because he's a nonconformist,'' he added. ``He's someone who learns through doing, experimenting and executing, not learning through someone else.''

The 27-year-old Miller bedevils as much as he bedazzles. His recoveries on the course are breathtaking. His conduct with his coaches can be adolescent. His exchanges with reporters are playful one minute, withering the next.

Early on, Miller was intent on squeezing speed out of every opportunity. His all-or-nothing style left him crashing out as often as finishing. But he has come a long way.

After switching ski brands this summer, he won six of the first 10 races this season. He won the night slalom in Italy on Dec. 13. He earned victories in all four disciplines _ slalom, giant slalom, super-G and downhill _ in a record 16 days.

However, that was his last World Cup victory for almost three months, until he won Friday's final super-G. This season, he also failed to finish seven of eight slaloms, previously one of his best disciplines. From a 400-point lead over Raich in mid-December, Miller was down to 52 entering the finals.

Mahre, a three-time overall champion from 1981-83, was baffled.

``How can you have a 400-point lead then disappear off the face of the earth?'' he asked. ``The guy has so much talent and just throws it away.''

But Miller was never taught to be like others. He was home schooled until the third grade. He began skiing at age 3, competing at 11. He now travels the European circuit in an RV.

``I sstopped being more of a father and treated him more as an equal from a very early age,'' said his father, Woody Miller, who traveled to the finals with several other family members.

His son loved to experiment on the course, tinkering with his technique and equipment. He would stuff energy bars into the heels of his boots to thrust himself forward, all in the hope of going faster.

Even now, Miller is exploring new territory. Unhappy with a crowded World Cup schedule that leaves little time for leisure, Miller talks about launching his own rival tour.

``He's a kind of revolutionary against the whole society and that's exactly what the kids like,'' said Gian Franco Kasper, president of the international ski federation. ``He's a gypsy in a caravan.

``I don't agree with him like when he says we should have less races but more fun and entertainment, more parties, fewer races,'' he added. ``But Bode is special and it's good like this. He is a PR instrument for international skiing.''

Copyright à‚© 2005 The Associated Press