Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bode, Raich in race to the finish

Fight for the World Cup crown

If the recent 2005 FIS Alpine World Championships at Bormio, Italy are any indication, American sultan of skiing Bode Miller, 27, better keep a close eye in his rear view mirror for Austrian Benjamin Raich, 26.

That's because the 2004-05 World Cup has 11 races remaining, and Miller's once-substantial lead has diminished to just 95 points over Raich.

Miller, after a fast start with gold medals in super giant slalom and downhill, botched the rest of the world championships with a recurring pattern of DNFs at the wrong times. And Raich came on, slowly but surely.

Raich ended up as the most decorated male skier at the Bormio world championships with four medals including golds in combined and slalom. Miller seriously faded in his attempt to become the first man to win world titles in five different disciplines.

Miller lost his winning edge by failing to finish the combined, giant slalom and slalom. The U.S. Ski Team ended with only six medals at worlds—the Miller pair, two by Julia Mancuso (SG/GS) and two by Miller's running mate Daron Rahlves (DH/GS).

The outcome tied the American record of six medals at the 2003 World Championships, but the team was aiming for eight at Bormio.

Just ahead for 18-time World Cup winner Miller is the weekend that could determine how he finishes in his bid to become the first U.S. man to capture the World Cup in 21 years.

The World Cup men compete Feb. 18-20 in two downhills and super giant slalom at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Miller trails DH leader Michael Walchhofer of Austria 431-378 in DH standings, and is second in SG 292-275 behind Hermann Maier of Austria.

Keep in mind Miller has come miles and miles in downhill after finishing 23rd DH on the World Cup with just 96 points last winter. He was the giant slalom king last season and leads Canada's Thomas Grandi 340-302 in the GS rankings this winter.

But Miller's failures in slalom—a discipline in which he placed fifth overall with 376 points last season—have given Raich a huge window of opportunity. Miller has DNFd six of seven SLs and has just 100 points.

So, in the overall standings, Miller has 1093 points, Raich 998 and last year's overall king Maier has 730. Last winter, Raich edged Miller for third place in the overall standings by the slimmest of margins 1139-1134.

It could be another photo finish this time around, only for first place.

The World Cup women resume Feb. 19-20 with SG and GS at Are, Sweden, site of the 2007 World Championships.

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