Worlds Medal No. 2 For Miller, Who Wins Combined Gold

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ST. MORITZ, Switzerland (Feb. 6 - News Release) — Unflappable Bode Miller (Franconia, NH), taking one run at a time, methodically turned up the heat Thursday in two runs of slalom after a frustrating downhill in bad weather and went on to win the men's combined at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. After three races, the USA — which has medaled in an unprecedented three straight races — has four medals, Austria three and Norway two.

NBC will televise Worlds coverage Saturday from 4-6 p.m. EST and Sunday 1:30-3:30 p.m. EST.

In recording the closest combined victory in any World Championships, Miller had a three-run time (one downhill, two slalom) of 3:18.41. Lasse Kjus of Norway, who led the DH, was silver medalist in 3:18.48 with Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, the Olympic gold medalist and back-to-back-to-back World Championships combined gold medalist took third in 3:18.54.

Miller said being on the podium with the two Norwegians was akin to being on the super G podium Sunday with Austrians Stephan Eberharter and Hermann Maier — "these guys have been dominant in the sport." He's the first U.S. man to win the combined gold medal since Billy Kidd won at the 1970 championships in Val Gardena, Italy. In 1980, when the Olympics doubled for the last time as the World Championships, Phil Mahre won the combined gold at Lake Placid.

Fog and gusting winds made the downhill portion of the combined a total crapshoot for some racers. Miller, coming out of the fog at the top of the course, clipped one panel, got thrown off course on a couple of other spots and was 17th behind Kjus, 2.95 seconds back.

He conceded it would be unlikely for him to medal "but I just kept on trying."

COACH SAYS CONSISTENCY PAYS OFF
"The key in combined is to ski consistently," Head Coach Phil McNichol said, "and Bode did just that. It's another sign of his maturing — he didn't try to win, try to overcome three seconds on that first run."

He was bummed by the downhill, McNichol said, but Miller kept his "public face" unchanged. There was no sign of turmoil as he plotted his slalom strategy with McNichol and SL'GS Head Coach Martin Andersen. "Bode's got a pretty good poker face," McNichol said.

Miller, 25, a Carrabassett Valley Academy (ME) product who tied for the silver Sunday in super G as the championships opened, shaved that margin in half during the first slalom run and whittled away the rest in his final run.

As he hit the finish area and saw he was first — with Aamodt, Austrian Benjamin Raich and Kjus still to run, Miller gave a visible sigh of relief. He gave a thumbs up sign with his right mitten to fans in the crowd as he collected his breath and turned, looking uphill to see if he could grab a medal.

Aamodt couldn't match him. Miller had the bronze. Raich skied out; Miller was the silver medalist…and Kjus couldn't catch him. Gold for Miller and the crowd went wild. He sunk to his knees, lowered his head and re-gathered his thoughts.

"It's not so much I thought I didn't have a chance. Like I've said, it's combined," Miller told a packed press conference. "You can always…people crash. In Kitzbuehel, both Kjetil and I blew out in the slalom, both in the second run of slalom, so I'm well aware of how precarious the lead can be, especially in combined. I just thought it was unlikely; there were enough guys there who were ahead of me or right with me who can ski very competitive slalom that I just thought it probably wasn't likely.

"But there was no question in my mind that I was gonna still go for it. I was still going for the win. I wasn't skiing for second or third place today, and in the end I think that's probably what got me there."

GOLD-MEDAL REBOUND FROM '01 WORLDS CRASH
He tore ligaments in his left knee two years ago when he crashed in the DH portion of combined at the World Championships in St. Anton. A year ago, Miller made a near-miraculous save during his combined downhill and ate-up the final run of slaloms he went on to collect the silver medal behind Aamodt. Thursday, he said there were many similar feelings from a year ago.

"Actually, it's a really similar feeling last year and this year. I had such a great run, my final run of slalom last year, and it was the Olympics, my home country, and I really felt proud to have skied so hard…and, under the circumstances, I think everyone had counted me out of the race.

"First or second, like Aamodt said, racing against the top guys in the world in these single-event type races, you could easily be fifth. And to be on the right side or the wrong side of those hundredths — I was two-tenths out there after being 2.4 (seconds) behind going into the last run. So, that two-tenths is the margin. Today, it was seven-hundredths, which is obviously even less," he said.

"It can go either way and to know all three of us were battling up there as hard as we could all day, and skied the whole downhill through wind and snow and jumps, and made all mistakes, then we skied two runs of slalom and it came down to seven-hundredths to separate us — and even less than two-tenths with Aamodt in third (.13 back of Miller's winning combined time of 3:18.41) — is amazing.

3-RUN ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTION
"That feeling is the same whether you're on either side of the hundredths. Obviously, it's great to win the world championship, but if you put down that kind of skiing, it's awesome either way."

With a delegation of his family plus girlfriend Lizzie Hoeschler and her family in the stands, Miller said the day ran a gamut of frustrations and joy. The gold medal, though, heals a lot of pain.

Asked what he thought about as he sank to the snow in victory, he said, "Just thinking about I was feeling and what a battle it had been that day. Y'know, people discount the combined as a tough event because, I think, they see the downhillers not ski the best slalom or they see the slalom skiers not ski the best downhill…but, for the top guys, the guys who can ski both to a competitive level, it's the toughest event out there — emotionally and physically and mentally, it's abusive all day.

"It takes so long and you have ups and downs all day — adrenaline rushes followed by depressing realizations followed by pepping yourself up and inspecting, getting focused again, doing it over and over again, it just doesn't get any harder than that.

"For me, when I was alone there, I was just thinking about what a battle it had been and how good it felt to be done — and I would have done that if I'd been fourth or fifth, even, but to be on the right side of the hundredths today was obviously a real treat."

PINPOINTING DOWNHILL MISCUES IS TRICKY
He came out of the foggy starthouse and felt he'd had a solid downhill, despite a couple of rocky points. He was surprised to find he was nearly three seconds off Kjus' pace, but he couldn't pinpoint where he lost that kind of time.

"There's no telling — it's downhill. It could've been a gust of wind at the top, it could've been that I just got off-line in just the wrong spot and hit some soft snow," he said. "There's lots of loose snow up there. It can be as simple as missing the timing in one turn."

McNichol added, "The downhill was all over the map. You pretty much had every possible situation that Old Man Winter can throw at you from the start to the finish … It's really tough to calibrate what you're doing right or wrong."

"There's so much going on in a downhill course like that," according to Miller. "You really can't tell what it is you're doing that's making you slow. I've felt pretty comfortable on my downhill skis all year, and I've been competitive with most of the best guys, and I felt when I came across the line I felt like I could've won the run…and I looked up and saw I was three seconds out. That was one of the depressing realizations I was talking about."

But, when the battle was done, Miller, who has a good sense of ski racing history, said,"I felt like when I was on the podium with Hermann and Eberharter in the super G, I was sharing the podium with the champions of the sport, and even though Aamodt was Olympic (SG) champion, those guys have been the dominant force, and it's the same thing here — these guys have been untouchable in combined for the last eight years, or it seems like forever for me." He pointed to the Norwegians' record: Aamodt with 11 World Championships medals and seven from the Olympics while Kjus has 11 Worlds medals and five Olympic medals.

"They're great champions … I've been really honored at this Championships to share the podium with the guys I have."

Jake Fiala (Frisco, CO), who finished 14th in the DH, and Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA), who was 23rd, used the combined downhill as a chance to get one more training run on the Corviglia course. Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), who fought headwinds and fog, which rolled into just after Kjus and Aamodt raced, skied off-course midway down.

McNichol said the variable weather had organizers prepared to change the schedule, dropping back to a 10:30 a.m. CET start (from 10) for downhill. The next fall-back plan would be to run the slalom Thursday and have the downhill Friday, doubling as the final training run before the men's downhill Saturday. The women race DH Sunday.

Both men and women are scheduled for a final training run Friday.

After three races, the U.S. Ski Team has a gold, two silvers and a bronze medal. Austria has two golds and a silver, and Norway has a silver and bronze.

2003 FIS ALPINE WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
St. Moritz, SUI — Feb. 6
Men's combined
1. Bode Miller, Franconia, NH, 3:18.41
2. Lasse Kjus, Norway, 3:18.48
3. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway, 3:18.54
4. Pierrick Bourgeat, France, 3:18.59
5. Silvan Zurbriggen, Switzerland, 3:18.97
-
Did not finish: Jake Fiala, Frisco, CO; Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, CA; and Marco Sullivan, Squaw Valley, CAfelt like when I was on the podium with Hermann and Eberharter in the super G, I was sharing the podium with the champions of the sport, and even though Aamodt was Olympic (SG) champion, those guys have been the dominant force, and it's the same thing here — these guys have been untouchable in combined for the last eight years, or it seems like forever for me." He pointed to the Norwegians' record: Aamodt with 11 World Championships medals and seven from the Olympics while Kjus has 11 Worlds medals and five Olympic medals.

"They're great champions … I've been really honored at this Championships to share the podium with the guys I have."

Jake Fiala (Frisco, CO), who finished 14th in the DH, and Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA), who was 23rd, used the combined downhill as a chance to get one more training run on the Corviglia course. Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA), who fought headwinds and fog, which rolled into just after Kjus and Aamodt raced, skied off-course midway down.

McNichol said the variable weather had organizers prepared to change the schedule, dropping back to a 10:30 a.m. CET start (from 10) for downhill. The next fall-back plan would be to run the slalom Thursday and have the downhill Friday, doubling as the final training run before the men's downhill Saturday. The women race DH Sunday.

Both men and women are scheduled for a final training run Friday.

After three races, the U.S. Ski Team has a gold, two silvers and a bronze medal. Austria has two golds and a silver, and Norway has a silver and bronze.

2003 FIS ALPINE WORLD SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
St. Moritz, SUI — Feb. 6
Men's combined
1. Bode Miller, Franconia, NH, 3:18.41
2. Lasse Kjus, Norway, 3:18.48
3. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway, 3:18.54
4. Pierrick Bourgeat, France, 3:18.59
5. Silvan Zurbriggen, Switzerland, 3:18.97
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Did not finish: Jake Fiala, Frisco, CO; Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, CA; and Marco Sullivan, Squaw Valley, CA