March 12, 2005
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Andrew Dampf)--Bode Miller became the first American in 22 years to win skiing's overall World Cup title. He finished ahead of his only remaining challenger, Benjamin Raich of Austria, in the season's final giant slalom Saturday to capture the crown.
The last non-Europeans to win the overall championship were Americans Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney in 1983.
``It's been a bit embarrassing it's taken so long. It was getting a bit like the Red Sox,'' said Miller, a New Englander. ``It was a bit embarrassing because it was like a curse.''
``The last four years I've had a chance to win an overall,'' added Miller, who was fourth twice and second in 2003.
Miller finished second in the giant slalom, 0.68 seconds behind Stephan Goergl of Austria, who won with a two-run time of 2 minutes, 10.51 seconds. Raich came in third, 0.80 behind.
Raich's only chance to stay alive for the overall was to win and hope Miller finished outside the top 15. Raich skied before Miller and posted the best time to that point. The Austrian's lead held for four more skiers until Miller ended the suspense by beating Raich.
With only Sunday's slalom left, Miller holds an insurmountable 204-point lead. He has 1,608 points to Raich's 1,404, with wins worth 100 points.
``It's done, it's over,'' Miller said.
Miller was not the only American to enjoy a big day. Sarah Schleper recorded her first career World Cup victory, winning the season's final slalom in which Janica Kostelic of Croatia finished second to close in on overall leader Anja Paerson of Sweden. Nicole Hosp of Austria was third.
Raich was left with the consolation prize of taking the World Cup giant slalom title, finishing with a three-point edge over Miller, the defending champion in that category.
Raich also won the crystal globe awarded to the season's slalom winner.
``I had a good world championships and now I've got two globes in giant slalom and slalom, so I'm very happy,'' said Raich, who outperformed Miller at last month's world championships, gaining four medals _ two golds, a silver and a bronze _ to Miller's two golds.
``I was trying to win the GS title today, but Benni had an amazing second run and that's what made the separation,'' Miller said. ``I wanted to win the GS obviously, but I won that one last year.''
As overall champion, Miller joins such greats as Jean-Claude Killy, Ingemar Stenmark, Marc Girardelli, Pirmin Zurbriggen, Alberto Tomba and Hermann Maier, the Austrian who won his fourth title last season.
Mahre won three times from 1981-83, and McKinney is the only American woman to win. But Miller is nothing like his predecessors.
His rebellious attitude _ he is threatening to start his own ski tour next season _ and make-or-break style _ he finished only one of eight slaloms this season, winning in Sestriere, Italy _ set him apart.
Raised in a New Hampshire home with no running water or electricity, Miller travels the World Cup circuit in a mobile home.
The overall was Miller's main goal all season. Skiers put much greater stake in the overall title than Olympic and world championship gold medals because the standings are determined over the course of an entire season rather than a single race.
Miller set up his victory with an extraordinary start to the season, winning six of the first 10 races. On Dec. 13 he captured his only slalom victory of the season and joined Girardelli as the only male skiers to win races in all four Alpine disciplines in one winter.
Miller then hit a three-month winless streak in the World Cup, excluding his two gold medals at last month's world championships, which do not count in the World Cup standings.
The American's 400-point lead over Raich in December shrank to 52 points entering this week's World Cup finals.
With the pressure on, however, aand the season growing shorter, Miller responded with three top performances. He finished second in Thursday's downhill, snapped his winless streak Friday by sharing a super giant slalom victory with teammate Daron Rahlves _ taking the World Cup super-G title in the process _ and then clinched the overall with another podium performance Saturday.
``I felt like I was geared to race,'' Miller said. ``I did what I came to do.''
Miller began his career as a technical specialist excelling in slalom and giant slalom. This season he also became one of the top speed skiers, winning for the first time in super-G and downhill. Miller's two golds at the worlds came in the super-G and downhill.
``I was consistently top five all season except for the slalom,'' Miller said. ``It's never been a technical problem. It's a matter of execution.''
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press