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February 5, 2004
BORMIO, Italy (AP by Andrew Dampf)–Bode Miller became the first American to win the men’s downhill at the world championships Saturday, and teammate Daron Rahlves was runner-up in this signature event for an overpowering show by the U.S. team.
Miller, winner of last weekend’s super giant slalom, confirmed his status as the top all-around skier. The overall World Cup leader was the third skier down the slope, and no one finished within a second of his time of 1 minute, 56.22 seconds until Rahlves, who started 18 spots later.
The two Americans gave the United States its first 1-2 finish at the worlds in any event in men’s or women’s competition.
“To be one and two at the world championships for any team is great, but for the U.S. it’s phenomenal,” Miller said. “It means even more to be on the podium with Daron than to win it alone.”
Rahlves was 0.44 seconds behind. Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, the previous world champion, won the bronze, 0.87 back.
“Daron is in inspirational skier,” Miller said. “He’s got a lot of heart and a lot of grit, especially at the world championships.”
While Bill Johnson won the Olympic downhill in 1984 and Tommy Moe repeated the feat 10 years later at the Lillehammer Games, no American man had captured the gold in the glamour race at the worlds.
Miller ended a strong run by Austria, which had won every downhill at the worlds, dating to Hermann Maier’s victory in 1999 in Vail, Colo. The worlds are not held during Winter Olympic years.
Strategy played a large part in Miller’s victory. By deliberately posting a slow time in Friday’s final training, which determined the race’s starting order, Miller started early and could attack a clean course while later skiers faced varying conditions.
Miller, who lost a ski in Friday’s combined race, mastered the upper part of the Stelvio course and made only a few minor errors on the lower half.
“It worked out exactly the way I hoped,” Milller said. “For some guys it wouldn’t have been so great, but for me it was perfect.”
The skier from Franconia, N.H., began his career as a slalom and giant slalom specialist and has become a top speed skier only this season, winning two World Cup downhills to start the winter. Until the worlds, he had not won since taking a slalom in Sestriere on Dec. 13.
Now he has two golds and a chance for more medals in the giant slalom, slalom and new team event that concludes the championships Feb. 13.
“I’m super proud of what Bode has done this year and today,” Rahlves said. “This is the first year we’ve trained together and he’s got a lot of intensity like I do, so it’s fun to bang heads and mix it up on the hill.”
Several skiers made up time on Miller in the last few hundred meters but were too far behind. Rahlves, wearing the No. 21 bib, came closest.
“I was definitely ready to put one down today,” Rahlves said. “It was a lot bumpier today, so you know you’re going to make some mistakes.”
The five Austrians in the race were among the final elite skiers to start.
First came Johann Grugger, winner of the regular World Cup downhill in Bormio in December. He finished ninth. Walchhofer was next in the No. 27 position and trailed by 0.39 at the third checkpoint, but he lost more time just before the finish. Walchhofer said a pebble lodged in his binding.
“I could have won if I didn’t have such problems,” he said.
Werner Franz, whose first World Cup downhill victory came at Val d’Isere this season, finished 28th. Reigning Olympic downhill champion Fritz Strobl (No. 30) started well and settled for fourth.
The last Austrian that Miller had to watch was Maier, who started No. 31 after a crash during training Friday. He was on Rahlves’ pace at the midpoint before he fell behind and finished 17th.
Only then, more than a half-hour after his run, coould Miller rejoice.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press