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Aamodt Leads Combined, Miller 15th

Snowbasin, Utah Feb. 13, 2002 (AP by Rob Gloster)--Bode Miller, hoping to end an eight-year medal drought for U.S. men in Olympic skiing, got off to a poor start Wednesday when he struggled on the downhill portion of the combined event.

Miller fell midway down the course, the left side of his body scraping against the snow, and had several other bobbles that left him far behind the leaders.

``It was sketchy, especially when I fell,'' Miller said. ``It was actually a little bit scary. I was heading right toward the coaches.''

Miller finished in 1 minute, 41.23 seconds, nearly 2.5 seconds behind leader Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway. Lasse Kjus of Norway was second fastest on the downhill run, and Patrick Staudacher of Italy was third.

Though Miller has been the best slalomer in the world this season and was expected to make up a lot of time on the afternoon's two slalom runs, a medal seemed a long shot after his poor showing in the downhill.

Results in the combined event are an aggregate of the downhill and two slalom runs. All three parts of the event are being run on the same day at the Salt Lake City Games, an Olympic first.

Miller, from Franconia, N.H., has wins in four World Cup races this season--three of them in the slalom--and was considered a strong medal contender coming into the combined event.

Even if he does not medal in the combined event, he is a favorite in the slalom and a medal hopeful in the giant slalom next week. No American man has won any Olympic skiing medal since 1994.

Teammates Aamodt and Kjus have swept five of the last seven gold medals in the combined event at the Olympics and world championships.

Aamodt, the winner of both World Cup combined races this season, was the 1994 Olympic silver medalist in the combined event and is a three-time world champion. His time in Wednesday's downhill was 1:38.79.

Kjus, who finished in 1:38.97, was the 1994 gold medalist and won silver in 1998. He will be seeking his second medal of the Salt Lake City Games after winning silver Sunday in the downhill.

The combined courses are well suited to technical skiers such as Miller.

``Slalom racers have a better chance in the combined here, because it's not an easy slalom,'' said reigning World Cup slalom champion Benjamin Raich of Austria, who completed the downhill portion in 1:41.05. ``Also, nowadays, the slalom skis are so short, if downhillers haven't been practicing on them regularly, it's really tough to manage them.''

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press

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