February 24, 2006
SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Erica Bulman)—A bum knee and ankle, ill-suited skis and a few extra pounds. Those are some of the things Bode Miller has packed for Saturday's slalom _ his last chance to win an Olympic medal.
Although slalom is the first discipline Miller excelled at, it is currently his toughest event.
He has completed only two of seven races this World Cup season and his best result was eighth. Last week, Miller blew his lead in the Olympic combined when he was disqualified for straddling a gate in the first slalom run.
"I've straddled probably more times than most people have finished a slalom, Miller said half jokingly.
One reason for his woes: Miller has focused more in recent years on the downhill and super-G _ speed events that require different skills than the turn-heavy slalom.
"This past season we did some more slalom training in the summer and during the season, U.S. technical coach Mike Morin said. "He always finishes his runs in training. But when it comes to race day it just doesn't happen.
Morin also cited Miller's continual search for equipment as a factor in his slalom slip-ups. His ski supplier is considered the best for speed events, but not necessarily slalom.
The American star's last slalom victory was in 2004, and it came on the same floodlit course he'll race Saturday night. Miller's best year was 2002, when he was the second-best slalom skier on the World Cup circuit.
Though Miller, 28, has gained a reputation of leaning toward lazy _ he sleeps in after partying and dismisses the U.S. team's off-slope training _ he managed to enter 136 consecutive World Cup races, a streak spanning nearly four years in an injury-laden sport.
That full schedule has worn on Miller.
"It's really tough, because you can't ski 10 days in a row, which he's doing, said Robbie Kristan, the technician who prepares Miller's skis for the slalom and giant slalom.[pagebreak]He's also busy testing new slalom skis _ about 25 pairs this season alone.
"He keeps searching for the feeling of control that he can't seem to find, Morin said. "That feeling goes back to the days when he was winning by large margins. His memories are still clear.
Miller's coaches suspect that while the skis are a factor, so are Miller's size and weight.
In his best slalom years, Miller weighed about 185 pounds. Miller has bulked up since adding speed events, and began this season at 220 pounds.
The top medal threats Saturday are skiers who have either stayed slim or lost weight. They include American Ted Ligety, Giorgio Rocca of Italy and Austrian Benjamin Raich.
"When Bode starting winning he was a young guy, agile, Morin said. "But guys, as they get older, they get heavier. He'll tell you he still reacts just as quickly but things do change over time.
Miller also has tendinitis in his left knee and twisted his left ankle Tuesday while playing basketball with teammates.
Though the U.S. team downplayed the ankle injury, Miller is rehabbing and skipped slalom training Wednesday and Thursday but planned to ski Friday.
Miller has shown an ability to shrug off adversity, injuries or otherwise.
After emerging in 1999 with two fourths in World Cup slalom races, Miller went on a 17-race blunder streak, failing to finish a single slalom in 33 months.
But suddenly in 2001 he returned to form _ something he'll have to do Saturday if he wants to salvage what has been a disappointing Olympics so far.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press