March 9, 2005
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Erica Bulman)--Bode Miller understands the arithmetic as well as anyone.
Three months ago, he seemed set to become the first American in 22 years to win the overall World Cup title. Now, Austria's Benjamin Raich is charging, having slashed Miller's lead from about 400 points to just 52 entering the last four races.
Miller will go head to head with Raich in four races at the World Cup finals, which open Wednesday, March 9. Hermann Maier will race in three events and has an outside shot of keeping his overall crown.
``To win the overall I need to be winning these last races, or at least beat the other two guys because the margins are small,'' Miller said.
Miller has 1,348 points, with Raich at 1,296 and Maier at 1,166.
The women's overall race is almost as close. Sweden's Anja Paerson is attempting to retain her title, holding a 63-point lead over Croatia's Janica Kostelic. They ski in all four disciplines.
Six other disciplines will be decided by Sunday _ the slalom titles have been locked up by Raich and Finland's Tanja Poutiainen.
Miller is tying to become the first American man since Phil Mahre in 1983 to win the overall title. Tamara McKinney is the last American woman to win an overall title, also in 1983.
Miller has been strong in the speed events _ downhill and super giant slalom _ since switching ski brands. But he's finished just one of eight starts in the slalom.
The New Hampshire skier won six of the first 10 races and has won in every discipline this season in which he has skied every World Cup event.
``Of course, I want to win the overall,'' he said. ``It's been a goal of mine a long time. I accept that it's the standard by which most skiers measure the best racer. But still, I have nothing to prove to myself.''
Raich has relentlessly gained ground on Miller, finishing among the top three eight times in technical events _ slalom and giant slalom. He's also prevented Miller from using the speed races to pull away.
Maier won the downhill and super-G last weekend in Kvitfjell, Norway, but rules himself out of the overall title.
``There are only four races left. It's not possible,'' he said. ``I don't ski the slalom.''
The women's downhill Wednesday opens the competition. The men's downhill is Thursday, with both super-G races Friday. Saturday is the women's slalom and men's giant slalom. Sunday closes with the women's GS and men's slalom.
Paerson is the defending overall champion, and Kostelic has won it twice. In last month's world championships, Kostelic won every race she entered _ slalom, downhill, combined _ and Paerson took the gold in the super-G and giant slalom.
Kostelic missed all of last season because of a thyroid problem and injuries.
``No matter where I finish I'll be happy because when the season began no one expected much from me, and I've had a great season and a great world championships,'' she said.
Paerson captured her first downhill last month, becoming only the second woman to win in all four disciplines in a single season.
``Even if I don't finish on top in Lenzerheide, it will still have been a good season,'' Paerson said.
Michael Walchhofer leads the downhill standings, 93 points ahead of Miller, his only remaining rival in the discipline. Maier is well positioned to keep his super-G title, 54 points ahead of Miller.
In the giant slalom, Raich leads with 363 points, 21 ahead of Canada's Thomas Grandi. Miller is 23 points behind and Italy's Massimiliano Blardone is 47 back.
In the women's downhill, defending champion Renate Goetschl is 32 points ahead of Germany's Hilde Gerg. Michaela Dorfmeister and U.S. skier Lindsey Kildow hold outside shots.
In the super-G, Dorfmeister leads defending champion Goetschl by just 22 points. Kildow trails by 47, the only other skier with a realisttic chance. Paerson needs to hold off Poutiainen and Slovenia's Tina Maze for a third straight giant slalom title.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press