SESTRIERE, Italy, Mar. 8 2004 (AP by Erica Bulman) -- Brandishing a go-for-broke style that sometimes gets him in trouble on the slopes, Bode Miller can become the first U.S. man since 1983 to win the overall World Cup title.
Asked about it, he lifts his head, squints and offers a derisive -and disarming- snort.
"I just don't really care that much," Miller said. "I want to race fast, I want to see how good I can get, and I want to race as well as I can possibly race."
Few understand how he can simply shrug off the prospect of the overall title, one of skiing's most prestigious trophies. Miller is second behind Hermann Maier with four races left at this week's World Cup Finals.
And few understand, with so much at stake, how Miller can continue skiing with his gung-ho style.
"I'm competitive, self-reliant, independent, pretty stubborn," he said. "I have a lot of talent. I'm definitely unique."
"The fact I have all those things together and I really don't care what anyone else thinks makes it really easy to do my own thing. To not be afraid of trying things maybe other people wouldn't because they are afraid of what other people think."
Miller's irreverence is reflected in his skiing. Even early in his career he often sacrificed results by going all out -- he failed to complete a single slalom for almost two seasons. But he was determined to squeeze speed out of every opportunity.
After breaking onto the scene in 1999 with two fourth-place slalom finishes, Miller went 17 straight races without finishing in the top 30, a drought of nearly three years. But he suddenly found the key to harnessing his speed and his abandon, finishing 26th and second in races in Aspen, Colo., in November 2001.
Then, at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, he won silver medals in the giant slalom and the combined. He won two gold medals and a silver at last year's world championships.
"If you hold back and get third place, yeah, you may be achieving some objective or goal for your team or for yourself," he said. "But it just gets a bit hollow after a while. The whole purpose is to challenge yourself and race like you mean it."
He has no use for timid skiers who choose to protect an advantage instead of going as fast as possible.
"It's a bit arrogant to not race as hard as you can every time," Miller said. "You're not giving it everything you have because you think you're good enough to do whatever it is without giving it everything."
The Franconia, N.H., skier is the only man to have competed in every World Cup race the last two seasons. He has 12 career victories, including six this season -- the most by a U.S. man since Phil Mahre had that many en route to the overall crown 21 years ago. The record for most Alpine victories in a season is 13, by Ingemar Stenmark in 1978-79 and Maier in 2000-01.
Miller took the lead in the giant slalom standings a week ago. After a slow start in the slalom -mostly because of equipment problems- he placed in the top five in every race he has finished since January.
The downhill and super giant slalom, added full time to his program last season, have proved troublesome. He has just two top-10 results in the speed events so far.
"He's got such great turning skills, but the straighter stuff is not his forte," U.S. speed team coach John McBride said. "Edge to edge, he does things no one else in the world can do, but the gliding is a bit of an issue. He's pushing a wider line and covering more real estate."
Miller failed to finish seven races this season, including three in speed events. He also failed to qualify for the second leg of two slaloms and was disqualified from another slalom in Park City, Utah.
Over the season's final events (slalom, giant slalom, Super G and downhill), Miller is chasing Maier, a three-time champion. Maier is making a remarkable comeback in his first full season on the toour since nearly losing a leg in a motorcycle accident more than two years ago.
Miller will ski all four events at the finals, with 400 points up for grabs. Maier plans to enter the downhill, super-G and giant slalom.
The Austrian has 1,165 points, leading Miller by 67. Last year, Miller was the overall runner-up to Stephan Eberharter.
"I'm going to need major points in the Super G and downhill to win the title, and the way Maier has been skiing those he can definitely win those," Miller said.
But Miller thinks he has what it takes, too.
"I'm not a super consistent person, across the board," he said. "But I have a ton of intensity in my sport, and when it comes to going out of the gate, I race as hard or harder than anyone."
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press