February 12, 2005
BORMIO, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)--Bode Miller first lost two gold medals, then a ski in the downhill. On Saturday, he lost his status as the premier skier at the world championships. Austrian Benjamin Raich took the honors, becoming the most-decorated male skier of the championships after putting together two brilliant slalom runs on the rapidly deteriorating Stelvio course to win his second gold medal and fourth overall.
``Benni, with four medals, is now the star of the world championships,'' said Peter Schroeksnadel, president of the Austrian ski federation.
Raich also won gold in the combined last week, took silver in the giant slalom and got a surprise bronze in the super giant slalom.
Leading after the first leg in the slalom, Raich posted a combined time of 1 minute, 41.34 seconds. Teammate Rainer Schoenfelder was second, 0.24 back. Local favorite Giorgio Rocca of Italy was third, 0.74 behind, adding to the bronze he won in the combined.
``I am maybe more consistent,'' Raich said when asked about Miller. ``He started very well with two golds. I started more moderately, with a bronze. But now I have four medals, including two golds.''
Miller began the championship in spectacular fashion, humbling the Austrians with stunning wins in the downhill and super-G. He followed that up with a rollicking stunt in the combined, when he lost a ski 15 seconds into the downhill leg but showboated most of the way down on one ski before dropping onto his rear.
He also grabbed headlines for revealing that he lost his 2003 combined gold medal after using it as a toilet seat anchor, then had his super-G gold from this year stolen hours after his victory, during celebrations in the USA events house.
But like his dazzling start to this season _ when he stormed to six victories in 10 races _ Miller appeared to lose his winning edge, also failing to finish the giant slalom and slalom, previously his best events.
Miller, the defending champion, lost control in the first run of the giant slalom and burst through an advertising banner, ending his chances of becoming the first man to win world titles in five different events.
He seemed poised to complete only his second slalom in eight attempts this season Saturday, when, showing uncharacteristic restraint, he made it down fourth in the opening leg.
After some confusion between runs when he lost his No. 13 bib and had it replaced by a blank one with No. 200 scrawled on it in marker, Miller then charged down with his usual fervor. However, he straddled a gate midway down, failing to finish for the third time at these championships and leaving him 1-8 in slalom this season.
Miller refused to speak to reporters afterward.
``I went out. Everybody saw it. That's it,'' Miller said through a team spokesman.
``He takes lost opportunity very, very, very hard,'' said U.S. men's head coach Phil McNichol. ``When he doesn't execute and there is no result, he doesn't get upset. He understands what went wrong and what he needs to do.
``But when he executes well and that doesn't work, that's when you see him take it the hardest.''
Raich has been chipping away at Miller's World Cup overall lead. In late December, Miller held a 352-point advantage over Raich, but the Austrian has since reduced that gap to 95.
``I won four medals here. Three times he was out,'' said Raich, who has the same flu that's affected several other skiers here, including Janica Kostelic. ``The overall World Cup is the next thing. Bode is very strong. He went out today, but he was still fast. He is the favorite. We will see what happens.''
The season concludes at the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide next month.
Miller was attempting to become the first man to win all five disciplines in his career at the worlds after taking the giant slalom and combined titles in 2003 and the two speedd titles here last week.
Miller switched ski brands before this season and has improved in the speed races while struggling in slalom _ once one of his best events.
The slalom race concluded the individual portion of the championships. Only the team event Sunday, in which Raich and Miller are expected to participate, remains.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press