January means pro football playoffs in the U.S. but in Europe, the month revolves around the biggest World Cup alpine ski races of the winter.
And everybody on the World Cup will be shooting for overall leader Bode Miller, 27, of New Hampshire.
The men resume Jan. 8-9 with the Arlberg Kandahar downhill and slalom at Chamonix, France. Then it's on to Adelboden, Switz. for giant slalom Jan. 11. The Wengen DH/SL/Combined is Jan. 14-16, then it's on to Kitzbuehel, Austria for the 65th Hahnenkamm downhill, super giant slalom and slalom Jan. 21-23.
At the end of that two-week stretch, the World Cup circuit will have a much better idea if Miller is a legitimate threat for not only the overall championship, but also for the tour's downhill title for 2004-05.
Then, the 2005 World Alpine Ski Championships begin Jan. 29 with super giant slalom at Bormio, Italy.
Miller currently leads the overall standings 876-560 over Austria's Benjamin Raich. The American also holds a 286-271 downhill edge over Michael Walchhofer of Austria, and Miller leads super giant slalom 230-192 over reigning World Cup overall champion Hermann Maier of Austria.
Keep in mind Miller has placed 4th, 14th and 14th in the three European DHs to date—after winning at Lake Louise, Alberta and at Beaver Creek, Colo. Nov. 27 and Dec. 3.
In giant slalom, Miller (260) is currently second, behind Thomas Grandi of Canada (280).
Only one men's race was staged over the holiday—a wind-swept and bumpy downhill taken by first-time winner Johann Grugger of Switzerland at Bormio. Daron Rahlves placed sixth and Miller 14th. Conditions were tough, but Miller still extended his overall lead because Raich was 17th.
Miller won six races in the season's first 12 events to grab his commanding lead. Here are current men's overall standings: 1—Bode Miller (U.S.) 876. 2—Benjamin Raich (Austria) 560. 3—Hermann Maier (Austria) 506. 6—Daron Rahlves (U.S.) 391.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Lindsey Kildow of Vail, Colo. continues to be the hottest American woman in the speed events and overall standings.
Kildow ranks seventh in the overall but is second-best with 145 points in DH behind current leader Hilde Gerg of Germany (160). In super giant slalom, Kildow is third among all skiers.
Here are the women's overall standings, and the race is a close one: 1—Tanja Poutiainen (Finland) 626. 2—Reigning World Cup queen Anja Paerson (Sweden) 538. 3—Janica Kostelic (Croatia) 523. 7—Kildow 305. 11—Kristina Koznick (U.S.) 207.
Just after Christmas at Semmering, Austria, U.S. racer Sarah Schleper was fourth in giant slalom and fifth in the night slalom staged in front of between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators. Ma rlies Schild of Austria won both for her second and third wins. Jackson Hole's Resi Stiegler was eighth SL.
This week, the International Ski Federation announced a schedule shuffle so that the two women's World Cup DHs canceled just before Christmas at Val d'Isere, France will be finally held, this time in Italy.
Organizers of the 2005 World Alpine Ski Championships agreed to stage the two DHs on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 6-7 on what will be the worlds course at Santa Caterina, Italy.
Women gate racers will reconvene Saturday and Sunday for GS and SL at Berchtesgaden, Germany, then the women will have four speed races—two SGs and two DHs—at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy Jan. 12-16.