SESTRIERE, Italy March 13, 2004 (USST) - The decision made Miller the first U.S. men's champion since Phil Mahre in 1983.
Miller said it was "great" to be included with Mahre as World Cup GS champion, but he conceded it was bittersweet. "To win the GS title with 410 points (after seven races) is not the kind of season I thought I would win it with," he told a late-day press conference.
Skiing out meant he had lost any chance at the overall championship but he still had a grip on the GS crown...depending on how Kalle Palander of Finland raced.
Miller called it "the right decision" when organizers and International Ski Federation (FIS) officials finally decided to cancel the race, freezing the standings with Miller in first place, 61 points ahead of Palander. "That was a legitimate reason to cancel. There was no place to move this race; it was their only option," said Miller, who won three giant slaloms this winter.
U.S. Ski Team VP-Athletics Alan Ashley added, "We're proud of Bode for winning the Cup. Ideally, I know Bode and all of us would have preferred to win it on the field of play. That's the fair way to contest any athletic competition. But we're also in a winter sport where weather plays a factor."
Bode: "I was willing to watch..."
"I've said 100 times it's an unpredictable sport and you never know what's gonna happen," Miller said. He would have had no problem, he said, with Palander winning the GS title, if he'd been able to finish first or second - but the race was cut short and then canceled. "I was willing to watch and see if he could beat me. And if he'd won, I would have had nothing but congratulations for him...
"I was happy with my GS season. If Palander had won," the Carrabassett Valley Academy (ME) racer said, "that would've been okay, too; he had a great season in GS. For me to lose in the last race because I didn't finish, and didn't finish a few others all season, it would have been acceptable.
"I wasn't out of the top four all season (in GS and slalom) - when I got the finish," Miller said. "It was a hit or miss season."
He called it a "unique year" and said he felt the overall level of skiing was not up to the all-around level that has won the overall title in recent seasons. Winning a World Cup title, especially GS, "has been a goal for a long time, but especially the way it turned out - it was kind of handed to me, it was kinda of anticlimactic...but it's still great."
In a bizarre turn of events, Miller ran first and skied off-course about 35 seconds into the opening run on what will be the 2006 Olympic giant slalom hill. Austrian Benjamin Raich, running fourth, skied aggressively and took the first-run lead by .99 with Palander, who needed to finish first or second to overcome Miller's 61-point GS lead, in second place.
Delays, then cancellation
The second run was delayed 45 minutes. When it finally started (at 1:15 p.m. CET, 7:15 a.m. ET), nine skiers made it through the fog. Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA), who said, "I was guessing where the gates were," led the field when a course hold was announced. "I had to be careful because I didn't want to miss a gate," he said.
A short time later, a forerunner was sent into the fog as organizers sought to resume the race. The forerunner had a spectacular crash but walked away. Organizers and FIS officials extended the course hold, then suspended the second run. Racing was over for the day.
After organizers and FIS officials met in the finish area, the race was canceled, making Miller, the 2002 Olympic silver medalist in GS and the 2003 GS world champion, the 2004 World Cup giant slalom champion. That makes him the first U.S. champion since Mahre won the overall, combined and GS titles over two decades ago; Miller also won both combined calculations this season but no championship was awarded because of only two events.
Snow, which arrived Friday, continued through the night aand the course was foggy. Course crews worked through the night to make the hill race-able despite the fog.
"When I got on-course, it was really bad conditions," Miller, who spun out as he attempted to turn around a lefthand gate on the steep, upper section of the course, said after his aborted run. "I was really catching my tips and tails, then I made a couple of more mistakes and started to get really tired...
Physically demanding course finally got Miller
"I started to try to swing out more and my inside ski took my outside ski out," he explained. He spun backwards past a gate and fell over on his back, any hope of the overall title disappearing. "My legs were tired and I was pretty out of breath. I was surprised - I charged, I tried," Miller said. "I wasn't disappointed, wasn't mad - just tired."
Head Coach Phil McNichol said, "He got himself in trouble early on. They were hard conditions with the loose snow on the top - at times, the snow was hard, very grippy, and at times it seemed to be glassy, so it was hard to get an edge."
The bottom line is Miller never found the rhythm of the course, the coach said. "He was struggling to hold his line. He was out of balance." Eventually, he got behind on a gate and went out.
The decision - made with a weather forecast that included more snow and fog Sunday, threatening the final slalom - brings the overall points race down to only Austrians Hermann Maier, looking for his fourth overall title, and Stephan Eberharter, chasing his third straight overall championship. Maier was fourth and Eberharter sixth with 11 racers left when the race was halted.
If they run slalom Sunday, and neither of them usually skis slalom, Maier enters with a 42-point margin, meaning Eberharter would have to finish fifth (worth 45 points) or better with Maier finishing out of the points, which go only to top 15 finishers at Finals.
With no hope of overtaking the leaders, Raich remains third (1,113) with Miller locked in fourth (1,098) going into slalom and Rahlves fifth (1,004). This is the first season the U.S. Ski Team will have two men in the top five since 1982