GENEVA, Switzerland Dec. 16, 2004 (AP by Erica Bulman)--In a sport ruled for so long by Europeans, skiing has produced the likes of Ingemar Stenmark, Jean-Claude Killy, Alberto Tomba and Hermann Maier.
For now, however, there is a new look at the summit: Bode Miller—a laid-back New Hampshire-born skier—is standing alone.
``He is a true champion,'' Maier said. ``I don't think anyone can question that now.''
After a couple of strong years, Miller has harnessed his breakneck runs this season and is dominating the World Cup circuit in breathtaking fashion.
On Monday night, racing under the floodlights on the 2006 Olympic slalom course in Sestriere, Italy, he won for the sixth time in 10 events this season.
Miller became only the second man to win races in all four disciplines—slalom, giant slalom, super giant slalom and downhill—in a single season. And he did it in only 16 days; Marc Girardelli accomplished the feat over 72 days in 1988-89.
Miller leads the overall, downhill, GS and super-G standings, and is third in slalom.
He has a huge lead of nearly 400 points (730-339) over Maier, last year's winner, in the overall standings. Miller would be the first American since Phil Mahre in 1983 and first non-Austrian in six years to win the honor.
``Of course, I'm proud to be compared to such great champions, but the most important (thing) for me is to have reached the goal I set myself,'' Miller said. ``For the moment, I'm just happy to have achieved something which was important to me since I started to race all specialties. I knew I could do it and I'm happy to prove that I was right.''
Miller's rivals welcome his success as a boost for the sport.
``It's great for Alpine skiing, really good for the entire World Cup,'' said Finland's Kalle Palander, who finished third in Monday's slalom. ``We really need heroes. We're missing people like Alberto Tomba.''
While Miller's accomplishments put him in league with greats like Girardelli, Maier, Killy, Tomba, Stenmark and Pirmin Zurbriggen, the resemblance stops there.
Killy was known for his glamour, Zurbriggen for being the ultimate clean-cut professional. Miller is usually unshaven, slouching during interviews in baggy jeans with his hands buried in his pockets.
Maier is renowned for his teeth-baring grimaces during races, prompting such nicknames as ``The Herminator'' and ``The Monster.''
Miller, his style cool and understated, is popular with kids. If the flamboyant Tomba was the clown prince of the World Cup circuit, Miller shuns the spotlight and often complains of excess media attention and PR duties.
``I don't feel any different than before,'' he said.
Miller always refused to conform, even from the youngest age. He was brought up in a cabin in the forests of New Hampshire, without running water or electricity, and was home-schooled until he was in third grade. Miller now lives out of an RV as he travels the European circuit with his childhood friend, cook and chauffeur, Jake Sereno.
Most skiers follow a traditional regimen that emphasizes resistance and weight training, stair running, cycling and running. Miller has a program all his own, stressing strength and balancing exercises.
In the summer, he can be seen logrolling, tightrope walking, riding uphill on his unicycle, pushing a wheelbarrow uphill, rock climbing or sprinting up a strip of asphalt while pushing a 600-pound tennis court roller.
A gifted athlete who can play tennis just as easily with his left hand as his right, Miller had the skills that could have led to a professional career in tennis or golf or even soccer.
Skiing with a go-for-broke style, Miller used to be known as a speed-loving daredevil who was just as likely to crash out of races as finish them. It took him until this season to figure out how to control that speed and find equipment that would make the most of his fastidiously developed balance.
``Guys like Bode, like Jordaan or Gretzky, don't need to be told what to do as much as guided,'' U.S. men's coach Phil McNichol said. ``He's matured, become really professional. And now he's pushing the sport, breaking new ground.''
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