Madonna di Campiglio, Italy Dec. 11, 2001 (AP by Jeff Israely)--Bode Miller understands the stakes: Success on the World Cup circuit only heightens the pressure for the Olympics.
But with the Salt Lake City Games less than two months away, the 24-year-old American wouldn't want it any other way.
``The World Cup isn't followed as much in the States,'' said Miller, who just erased 18-year American droughts in the World Cup slalom and giant slalom. ``But with wins, people start to notice.''
The skier from Franconia, N.H., has been getting a lot of wins lately. He became the first American man to win a World Cup slalom since Steve Mahre in 1983. On Tuesday night, in a race that does not count toward the World Cup, he won a slalom exhibition for his third victory in three days.
But for all his success in Europe, the Winter Games are altogether different.
``It's going to be huge,'' he said. ``To have it in your own country _ the excitement, the expectations, the attention. I love it. I love it more than anything.''
Blond, friendly and always ready to praise opponents and teammates, Miller takes a no-holds-barred approach to skiing. And when he is in a groove, he can be overpowering.
Miller's win in the slalom came just one day after he won the World Cup giant slalom in Val d'Isere, France, the first American victory in that discipline since a win by Phil Mahre, Steve's twin, in Furano, Japan, in 1983.
It is also the first back-to-back winning performance by anyone in gate competition in more than a year on the World Cup circuit.
U.S. slalom and giant slalom coach Jesse Hunt has been working on getting his young talent to take his attacking style down a notch _ particularly in the slalom _ to avoid race-ending mistakes.
The win at Madonna, which put him in first in the slalom standings, was the first race in which Hunt said he wasn't worried about Miller crashing.
``Bode's skiing with such confidence now,'' Hunt said. ``We're making history. It's pretty exciting.''
And it's all the more impressive considering he blew out his knee at last year's world championships and recovered without major surgery.
Miller finished second in November in a slalom at Aspen, Colo., his final proof that he had fully recovered. But the victories are another sensation.
``Those shivers that go from your toes to the top of your head,'' he said.
And Miller is tantalized by what could await Salt Lake.
``The Olympics have such a mystique in the U.S, maybe even more than in Europe,'' he said. ``I'm going to go there and ski my heart out.''
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