March 10, 2005
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Andrew Dampf)--Bode Miller felt good during the final World Cup downhill of the season.
So good, he thought he would win the race. Instead, he placed second _ but came away with an even better feeling. Miller increased his cushion over Austrian Benjamin Raich for the overall World Cup title.
Thanks to his runner-up finish, Miller now has a 108-point lead over Raich, who placed 11th in the downhill. Miller, trying to become the first American overall winner since Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney in 1983, upped his point total to 1,428, while Raich has 1,320.
``I think he knows it's going to be a battle,'' Miller said.
The three remaining races should be closer, because the speed specialist Miller and technical specialist will be better matched. But Miller can clinch the title Friday in super giant slalom if he wins and Raich fails to make the top 15. Only the top 15 score points at finals.
``If I don't ski well in every race this week, I probably won't win the overall,'' Miller said. ``For sure I have the advantage over him, skiing better in three events, and I have the potential to win in slalom also. But if I don't ski well in those events, it doesn't matter how many events I have.''
Miller will be favored to gain more points than Raich in the super-G. Several skiers said the downhill and super-G are very similar on the extremely twisty and steep Silvano Beltrametti course.
Miller skied brilliantly in the downhill, crossing the line just 0.14 seconds behind Norwegian winner Lasse Kjus. Michael Walchhofer of Austria won the downhill season title after he finished tied for fourth with Hermann Maier.
``I was surprised that I didn't win,'' Miller said. ``I skied really pretty well the whole way. I didn't make any big mistakes and I was taking a pretty aggressive line. Compared to the guys around me, I was faster than everybody else.''
Miller was the penultimate skier down the course, with only Walchhofer starting behind him. Kjus started second and Raich was third, giving them cleaner looks at the course than the later skiers.
``If anything, I'd say he was a little disappointed that he didn't do better,'' Miller said of Raich. ``This is a pretty technical course and I'm sure he could have skied better today. Especially with his early start position _ the way that Lasse used that to his advantage.''
Miller's teammate, Daron Rahlves, wasn't in such a good mood.
He finished sixth, only 0.01 behind Walchhofer and Maier, and ended his season without a single victory.
``I haven't been this (upset) in a long time,'' said Rahlves, who has won eight World Cup races in his career and the 2001 super-G world title.
Rahlves, a downhill specialist, also just missed a podium finish in the season's downhill standings.
``I had to beat Hermann and I was 0.01 behind him and I just got beat for third. That's kind of how my whole season has been,'' he said. ``It's definitely one of those seasons where you just got to suck it up and kind of move on and hopefully learn a lot and improve for next year.''
On the women's side, American Julia Mancuso tied Janica Kostelic for fourth and registered her best career downhill result.
``It's definitely coming around,'' Mancuso said. ``It's just a matter of getting used to it and getting on my skis more because I didn't get any downhill training this summer. I think every race gets better, so I'm excited to ski more next year.''
Fellow American Lindsey Kildow fell midway through her run, breaking a pole and hurting a finger in the crash. The fall ended her slim chances at the downhill title, and she finished fifth in the downhill standings. Kildow said she will still race in the super-G Friday.
``Yeah, my season has been good. I just would have liked to finish it the way I started it,'' said Kildow, who won her first World Cup race in a downhill in December, one of her six podiums this season.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press