Miller and Vonn Give U.S. Two for the Snow
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
When American TV audiences last paid attention, the face of U.S. ski racing belonged to a self-absorbed contrarian who partied his way through the 2006 Winter Olympics and finished 0 for 5 in the medal count.
Bode Miller is unlikely to express regret, not being the sort to reflect on the view in life's rearview mirror. But as he stands on the precipice of winning his second overall World Cup championship -- a rare achievement that would rehabilitate his reputation in the eyes of those still chafing over his lackluster Olympic effort -- it's an open question whether anyone stateside will notice.
Along with fellow American Lindsey Vonn, Miller enters the final race of the grueling World Cup season this week leading the standings for the most prestigious title in Alpine skiing.
Vonn, 23, holds a 157-point lead over Maria Riesch of Germany in the overall standings, having already clinched the World Cup downhill title.
And Miller, 30, boasts a 169-point lead over Didier Cuche of Switzerland, who clinched his second consecutive World Cup downhill title yesterday after the season's final downhill was canceled because of poor weather.
It would be glorious for U.S. skiing if Miller and Vonn fend off the competition on the slopes of Bormio, Italy, this week. Only once have an American man and woman won the overall World Cup titles in the same year -- in 1983, when Phil Mahre won his third and Tamara McKinney won her first. And no one is rooting more fervently for the Americans to duplicate the feat than Mahre and McKinney, who know well what the achievement represents.
"The pride of having two Americans not just thinking we could be the best, but being able to win the World Cup is remarkable," said McKinney, who won her title at age 20. "I mean no disrespect to our country, but I don't think Americans really get the significance of the overall title. Obviously, the Olympic gold is an unbelievable achievement. But the skiing world really respects winning the overall World Cup and realizes that it's an achievement that is very, very difficult."
Added Mahre, 50: "It's a season-long contest versus a one-day crapshoot. It's a much bigger accomplishment [than the Olympics] in that respect."
For Miller and Vonn, both of whom were shut out of medals at the 2006 Olympics, the current World Cup season has been a triumph already.
Reared without modern conveniences in rural New Hampshire, Miller swaggered into the 2006 Olympics amid enormous hype after winning the 2005 World Cup overall title. But he left dubbed the biggest bust in Olympic history. He was a fixture on the nightclub circuit, blew off interviews, spurned Olympic housing in favor of a personal RV and raced with go-for-broke abandon, finishing only two of his five events.
When U.S. Skiing officials later tried to rein in his behavior, Miller cut ties with the federation and formed his own, one-man team to compete on his own terms.
He has done just that this season. And the result has been dazzling. He came within five points of becoming the first American man to win the World Cup downhill title. And he's well positioned for a second overall title. Cuche has just three races -- tomorrow's Super-G, Friday's giant slalom and Saturday's slalom -- to close the deficit.