Kvitfjell, Norway (March 11) USST -- At the bottom of the course made famous by Tommy Moe's 'Golden Boy' run in 1994, Austrian Stephan Eberharter and American Bode Miller stood side-by-side for photographers as one of the closest races in recent World Cup history began its final stretch run.
Miller, the upstart American, stands just 93 points behind Eberharter with four races to go in his bid to be the first American to take the World Cup since Phil Mahre in 1983.
In Miller's typical low-key fashion, he shrugged aside the pressure of the title run, affording Eberharter a fair share of accolades. "If it works out and I can win the title, that would be great," said Miller. "But if I don't, I'm not going to worry about it. Stephan has been the best skier all year long. He's won more races than anyone. I have a lot of respect for him."
U.S. SUCCESS IN KVIFJELL IS MAJOR
Kvitfjell holds more recent history for the U.S. Ski Team than any course on the fabled White Circus. Moe (then-Palmer, AK) opened the 1994 Olympics with a downhill win, and came back four days later on his 24th birthday to take silver in the super G. Later, teammate Diann Roffe-Steinrotter (then-Potsdam, NY), starting Mo. 1, watched for over 90 minutes as no one could beat her time and she became an Olympic champion. At the World Cup Finals 10 years ago, it was the scene of a protest by women's racers who wanted their speed events moved from nearby Hafjell to the steeper, tougher pitch at Kvitfjell. A year later for the Olympics, they were moved to Kvitfjell where, in addition to Roffe's gold, Picabo Street (then-Sun Valley, ID) took silver in the downhill.
A year after the Olympics, Kyle Rasmussen (Angels Camp, CA) won his first World Cup downhill. And just three years ago, Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) came into Kvitfjell and walked away with back-to-back downhill wins.
"It's always exciting to be on an Olympic course," said Miller. "It was soft today, but this is a challenging course with lots of changes all the way down. I'm just taking it race by race. If I can be top five or top ten in the speed events, then I can go for the win in the technical events and maybe have a chance."
Miller gave away a lot of time in training Tuesday, finishing 24th -- 2.45 seconds out of first, and 1.75 behind Eberharter. Rahlves led the USA in 10th, 1.13 behind leader Antoine Deneriaz of France. Marco Sullivan (Squaw Valley, CA) was 13th in his first outing on the challenging course.
ASIAN RACES HELPED MILLER TRIM LEAD
Miller had hoped to come into Kvitfjell with the lead. But the cancellation of last Friday's giant slalom in Shiga Kogen, Japan, and Miller's first-run DNF in Saturday's slalom, left him 93 points behind. Still, during the two-weekend Asian swing, he cut Eberharter's margin nearly in half.
Miller knows he has to keep it close. But he has the advantage of a smaller World Cup Finals field -- just the top 25 in the World Cup, plus the reigning world junior champion. But he also has to stay close -- only the first 15 finishers score World Cup points.
For the women, it marks the first return to Kvitfjell since Roffe-Steinrotter's historic win. Almost none of the current World Cup racers had been on the course before Tuesday's training. Americans Kirsten Clark (Raymond, ME) and Jonna Mendes (Heavenly, CA) both had fun on the challenging, twisting course. Clark hopes to round out what clearly has been the best season of her career. The Maine native was battling for the World Cup downhill title until two weeks ago when she hit slow, warm snow and dropped from first to fourth in the standings with a 20th place finish.
"That was tough, but it's part of the sport," Clark said in her signature no-excuses style.
Finals begin Wednesday, when the men take to the mountain for what is anticipated now to be a 9:30 a.m. start, with the women to follow.
THE SCHEDULE: Wednesday - doownhill; Thursday - super G; Friday - weather day; Saturday - Men's GS and Women's slalom; Sunday - Men's slalom, Women's GS