Miller, Rahlves give U.S. a first, second at world championships

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2005

 

  Bode Miller of the United States speeds down the course on his way to winning the Men's Downhill at the World Alpine Ski Championships, in Bormio, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005. AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati

Bode Miller of the United States speeds down the course on his way to winning the Men's Downhill at the World Alpine Ski Championships, in Bormio, Italy, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005.

AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati

BORMIO, Italy — Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves gave American skiing a day like no other. Never before had U.S skiers — men or women — finished 1-2 in any event at an Alpine World Championships.

With Miller first and Rahlves second, they pulled off the feat Saturday, and in the downhill, no less — the sport's signature event and one the Austrians have dominated for so long.

Miller is the first American man to win the downhill at a worlds; none even had finished second. He captured his second gold medal of these championships.

''It's a really clear representation of our team,'' he said. ''Everybody says the Americans always do well at the big championships, and I don't look at that as anything bad. I think it's great. When the game is on the line, there's a couple guys who you want to pick to take that winning shot, to take the pressure.''

Bill Johnson won the Olympic downhill for the United States in 1984 and Tommy Moe repeated the feat 10 years later at the Lillehammer Games. But until Saturday, the best downhill results for U.S. men at the worlds were third-place finishes by A.J. Kitt in Morioka, Japan, in 1993 and Doug Lewis in Bormio in 1985.

Miller, who won the super giant slalom last weekend, was the third skier to leave the start hut. He then waited as contender after contender failed to come close to his winning time of 1 minute, 56.22 seconds on the Stelvio course.

Rahlves, who made a mistake at the top that might have cost him the gold, took the silver in 1:56.66. Defending champion Michael Walchhofer salvaged a medal for Austria, finishing 0.87 off the pace for the bronze.

''I'm super proud of what Bode's done this year and today,'' Rahlves said. ''This is the first year we've trained together and he's got a lot of intensity like I do, so it's fun to bang heads and mix it up on the hill.''

Miller now has been crowned world champion four times in four events — giant slalom and combined in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2003 and super-G and downhill this time.

He ended a strong run by Austria, which had won every downhill at the worlds dating to Hermann Maier's victory in 1999 at Vail, Colo. Austrians also have swept the last five World Cup downhill titles.

The United States is now halfway to its goal of eight medals at the worlds, with Julia Mancuso taking the bronze in the super-G.

''A few years ago people would sort of chuckle at the cowboy Americans, kind of seat-of-their-pants and everything, but I don't care if that's what people think as long as it's not true,'' U.S. men's speed coach John McBride said. ''We're serious, we work hard.''

Miller began winning speed events only this season, capturing two World Cup downhills to start the winter. While he is still the overall leader, he hasn't won a World Cup race since the slalom at Sestriere on Dec. 13.

Despite Friday's combined event, in which he lost a ski and continued most of the way down the slope on one leg, Miller still has a chance for more medals in the giant slalom, slalom and a new team event that will conclude the championships Feb. 13.

''This is great for the sport. Bode is exciting, dominant, good-looking,'' said Ken Read, president of Alpine Canada. ''He's the best skier in the world and for all of us on that side of the ocean it's nice to see that.''

All five Austrians in Saturday's race were considered title contenders.

''The Austrians are a machine,'' McBride said. ''They're all about bringing in medals and winning as much as possible and they're going to push even harder than they have. They're going to get harder and harder to beat. Not easier.''

Walchhofer trailed by 0.39 seconds at the third checkpoint, lost time just before the finish and surrendered his title. Olympic champion Fritz Strobl started well but dropped off and settled for fourth.

Johann Grugger, winner of a World Cup downhill at Bormio in December, shared ninth place. Maier, a past Olympic and world champion, was on Rahlves' pace at the midpoint but ended 17th. Werner Franz, who won the downhill at Val d'Isere this season, was 28th.

''It feels fantastic,'' McBride said. ''Those guys are always pushing and shoving us around. We always feel like the little punk in the schoolyard, so it's nice to kind of step on 'em a little bit. It doesn't happen very often.''



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