Miller's Title Chances Hang on the Weather


March 9, 2005

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Erica Bulman)--Bode Miller's shot at winning the overall World Cup title might depend on the weather.

Heavy snowfall forced organizers to postpone Wednesday's downhill practice session at the World Cup finals. If the training and downhill are canceled Thursday, Miller's hopes of becoming the first American man to win the overall title in 22 years could be severely dented.

The women's downhill also was canceled and rescheduled for Thursday morning.

Miller has a 52-point lead over Austrian Benjamin Raich going into the final four scheduled races of the season: downhill, super giant slalom, giant slalom and slalom.

The 27-year-old American also has a chance to win the downhill title. He trails leader Michael Walchhofer by 93 points.

Miller is stronger than Raich in the speed disciplines _ especially the downhill _ but less consistent in the technical events.

``It wouldn't hurt to have the title wrapped up before the last two races,'' Miller said. ``To win these next two (downhill and super-G) and have Raich score no points, and not even have to start the last two (giant slalom and slalom) if I didn't want to.''

Last season, Miller arrived at the finals in second place behind Hermann Maier in the overall standings. After a disappointing week, the New Hampshire skier dropped to fourth while Maier claimed the title.

This season, after switching ski brands, Miller won six of the first 10 races. At the night slalom in Sestriere, Italy, he won his fourth discipline title in 16 days, accomplishing the feat in the shortest span in history.

By December, he was leading Raich by about 400 points.

But like last year, Miller slumped. His ski switch and heavier program affected his slalom _ where he failed to score points in seven of eight starts this season.

``Sports don't always work in a progressive mode or peak out,'' Miller said. ``It's similar with the overall. Everyone thinks the climax is here. I started off pretty strong at the beginning of the year and if anything it was the reverse. It's like I start off strong then just peter off at the end.''

Steady and consistent, Raich has reached the podium eight times in the technical events _ slalom and giant slalom _ and has been improving in the speed races lately, too.

``For me, it's important not to think too much about the overall World Cup. Just to think about the race to do now, tomorrow, and that's the downhill,'' Raich said. ``I feel good and I'm in good shape and I think the chances are still (alive).

``The favorite is Miller. He's in front now ... He's normally stronger in speed disciplines and he's also very strong in GS. Slalom he has some problems, but he's fast, as he showed in Sestriere.''

Maier has only a distant chance of defending his overall title, sitting 182 points behind Miller.

Miller, however, can claim the discipline title by winning the final downhill and hoping Walchhofer scores fewer than seven points. The Austrian is nursing a sore knee from a high-speed crash in the downhill in Kvitfjell, Norway, last weekend. He first injured his knee in a fall in Val Gardena, Italy, in December.

``My knee is better. It was good to have a break these few days, especially for me,'' Walchhofer said of the postponements. ``It should be no problem for me if my knee is good and at the moment it looks good.''

On the women's side, defending champion Renate Goetschl of Austria leads the downhill standings with 467 points, 32 ahead of Hilde Gerg of Germany. Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria is third, 75 points behind, while Lindsey Kildow of the United States is fourth, trailing by 83.

The top 25 skiers in each discipline are invited to compete at the finals, in addition to the junior world champion.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press