Miller knows 1 gear -- overdrive

U.S. skier's methods are risky, if not proven

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 13, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

OGDEN, Utah - Bode Miller doesn't care much for instruction. Or authority. Or advice.

"I've always done it just the way I want to do it, not the way anyone else wants to do it," Miller said.

And why not? It's only helped make him one of the best skiers in the world. Miller is perhaps the world's best in the giant slalom and slalom, and is a medal threat in the combined, an event that encompasses a downhill run and two slalom runs.

Next week, Miller has a chance to become the first U.S. man to win a slalom or giant slalom medal since Phil and Steve Mahre finished 1-2 in 1984. But first, he'll try to win the first U.S. medal today in the combined.

"I'm kind of getting a feel for it," Miller said of the Olympics' Grizzly course. "Where the jumps are, how the turns are. It's smooth up there. There are some icy sections, but it's not ice that I'm not used to."

Of course, Miller doesn't much care where he races. He knows only one way to ski - lightning fast.

"I'm not afraid of blowing out," Miller said. "A lot of guys are. If they blow out, it means that they failed in some way or another. You can try to win without going 100 percent, but as soon as that starts to come into your psyche. ... No one has success that way."

It's been quite awhile since America could pin its medal hopes on a skier like Miller. In December in France, Miller became the first U.S. skier to win a World Cup giant slalom race since Phil Mahre in 1983. The next day in Italy, Miller won a slalom, making him the first to do so since Steve Mahre 18 years ago.

Miller is no wallflower. But he's no rich kid with a trust fund, either. Growing up in the rural woods of New Hampshire, Miller, 24, didn't enjoy the perks other kids his age did - electricity and running water, for instance. His parents, Jo and Woody, home-schooled Miller in a house they built by hand.

That didn't stop him from careening down ski slopes at reckless speeds. People learned quickly to get out of Miller's path, because even at age 5 he wasn't about to concede the right of way. It's a trait that has stuck with him. He finished only half the World Cup events he entered this season. In the four that he won, Miller always seemed to be a slip away from a horrendous crash.

"I'm not going out there to crash," he said. `'I'm going out there to win."

With the Olympic combined courses well-suited to technical skiers, Miller will have a good chance for a medal

"Slalom racers have a better chance in the combined here, because it's not an easy slalom," said reigning World Cup slalom champion Benjamin Raich of Austria. "Also, nowadays, the slalom skis are so short, if downhillers haven't been practicing on them regularly, it's really tough to manage them."

Still, Miller and U.S. teammates Casey Puckett and Jakub Fiala will be underdogs in the alpine events. But the group is confident.

"We went through a lot of years of struggling, not knowing where we were in terms of technique," Puckett said. "The past three or four years, we got a good program together. We have a lot of talent. It's by far the strongest team I've seen going to the Olympics."Obviously, Bode is leading the charge and looks pretty good for these Olympics."

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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