February 4, 2005
BORMIO, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)--The assignment is clear for Bode Miller and U.S. teammate Daron Rahlves _ break Austria's six-year hold on the downhill title at the world championships.
Austrians have won the every edition of skiing's glamour event at the world championships since Hermann Maier's victory in 1999 in Vail, Colo. Michael Walchhofer won at the last worlds in 2003 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Walchhofer, the World Cup discipline leader and the winner on the grueling Lauberhorn race two weeks ago, is a heavy favorite Saturday.
The Austrians also feature double Olympic and world champion Hermann Maier, winner of two downhills and a super giant slalom on this course, and reigning Olympic champion Fritz Strobl. Johann Grugger, winner of the World Cup downhill in Bormio a month ago as well as in Chamonix, France, is another contender.
``It was great to win my first downhill on this course,'' Grugger said. ``I hope it's a sign.''
Miller, who captured the season's opening two downhills, is coming off a bizarre showing in the downhill leg of Thursday's combined. He lost a ski but continued down most of the way on one leg to the delight of the crowd before falling on his rump.
Rahlves won a World Cup downhill on the famous Stelvio course in 2003 and finished third in another race in Bormio the same year.
``It's a classic,'' Miller said. ``It's tough physically and technically. That's what makes a great downhill. It's going to be an awesome worlds because it's anybody's race. You never know who's going to win here.''
This is one of the only downhill courses where skiers see the finish from the starting gate. The first 15-20 seconds are comparable to the those on the notorious Streif in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
After building incredible speed, skiers quickly arrive upon the ``La Rocca'' jump and soar to 30-35 meters before aiming for the Canalino Sertorelli, a stretch named after Italian champion Giacinto Sertorelli, who died racing another course in 1938.
Racers then enter the Fontanalunga section _ named after the springs where peasants used to bring their grazing animals. This part of the course includes extremely difficult turns. Next is the Carcentina diagonal. Steep and icy, skiers must maintain their line and absorb the deep, shuddering vibrations from the bumpy surface.
Skiers then reach the treacherous and icy piana del Ciuk _ or ``stump'' in the regional dialect _ before encountering the San Pietro jump, where speeds can reach 85 mph. They finally hit La Konta, a left turn that leads straight into the final wall of the slalom, before tackling a tricky reverse slope that snakes through the woods.
``The slope is really exciting,'' Rahlves said. ``You hit top speed almost immediately and you never have time to relax. You need to be in sturdy shape.''
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press