KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Over three days on the sun-drenched slopes of the heart-stopping Rosa Khutor course, two things have become clear: Sunday’s men’s downhill will be a don’t-look-away affair, because there are so many points where a skier could lose control. And Bode Miller, the go-for-broke American, is now the clearly identified favorite.
“He’s been the best skier on this mountain,” said Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, the leader of the World Cup downhill standings. “So now he looks like the favorite.”
Such a development would have seemed unfathomable a year ago, when Miller skied infrequently as he entered his mid-30s. But here he is, now 36 and a father of two, having won two of the three training runs prior to the Olympic downhill – the second on Saturday, when he corrected a mistake he made the previous day, ironed out his line, and beat Svindal by two-thirds of a second.
“The idea is to be unbeatable,” Miller said Saturday. “Race day is always different. It’s going to be hard to stay calm. This course — some courses, if you get fired up, or you get too much intensity, you go slower. This one, I don’t think it’s going to be the case. I’m going to be ready, and I want to win.”
Miller won three medals at the Vancouver Games, recovering from his disastrous 2006, when he was supposed to be at the peak of his career yet went 0 for 5. Since arriving here, though, he has appeared to be a lethal combination of fit and engaged. Throw in a course that he clearly believes favors his all-or-nothing style – and works against the conservative tacticians – and he seems, mentally, locked in.
“It was fun,” he said of his final training run. “It’s one of those courses that I don’t think you’re safer by going easy. The teeth of this course is based on your athleticism and your ability to get on the front of the skis. You try to go easy, I think you’re more likely to end up getting hurt.”
Svindal, who beat Miller for silver in Vancouver’s downhill – behind gold medalist Didier Defago of Switzerland — was the presumptive favorite headed into the Sochi Games, and he appears the most significant threat here. He has two wins and no finishes worse than fourth in six World Cup downhills this year.
Saturday, Svindal and Miller were one of only a handful of racers who skied relatively hard through the end of the course, which exceeds two miles. Several competitors crashed, and others pulled up to conserve energy for race day.
That, seemingly, made the results from the training run difficult to analyze. Svindal, though, said only a handful of racers will truly contend on Sunday. Miller is foremost among them, even though he would become the oldest alpine Olympic medalist in history. Age, right now, doesn’t matter for him. Attitude, athleticism and experience right now seem to favor Miller.
“No matter what people are doing, pushing or not, just look at the split times,” Svindal said. “Bode is fast. That’s the bottom line.”