The Winter Games' glamour event is the fastest and most dangero us test in Alpine skiing, with athletes flinging themselves down an icy mountain face at more than 80 mph. For safety's sake, racers will get two training runs on the course in the Italian Alps beforehand. But the medals will go to the three fastest in their one and only run today.
An Austrian sweep is plausible given the mighty contingent of Michael Walchhofer, the defending World Cup downhill champion; veteran Hermann Maier, 33, who missed the 2002 Olympics after suffering a catastrophic leg injury in a motorcycle crash; and Fritz Strobl, the defending Olympic downhill champion.
But two Americans could dash Austrian dreams: the mercurial Bode Miller, 28, who's as likely to crash at the first gate as win gold, and the steadier Daron Rahlves, 32, who has three World Cup downhill victories this season. Rahlves's third win came on Switzerland's storied Lauberhorn course in January, with a parade of Austrians finishing behind.
Regardless of Miller's finish, his downhill run is must-see TV because of his go-for-broke style. The New Hampshire native made more news off the slopes than on before the Games -- first for ripping rules against performance-enhancing substances and then for discussing the challenge of skiing "wasted" during a CBS interview. Miller won two silvers at the 2002 Games (giant slalom and combined), but critics contend his high-stakes tactics, unorthodox training regimen and partying lifestyle have kept him from fulfilling his potential. He silenced most skeptics by winning the overall World Cup title in 2005. The downhill is the first of five Alpine events in which Miller will compete at the Turin Olympics. If he makes the podium in any, he'd become the first American to win three Olympic Alpine medals in a career. The United States hasn't won a medal in men's downhill since Tommy Moe's gold in 1994.