Bode Miller has been saying all season that he is as fit as he has been in over a decade.
He now has another marquee result to reinforce it.
The 36-year-old American star overcame adverse skiing conditions and a shortened course to post his second Top 5 finish in a World Cup downhill this season on Saturday in Wengen, Switzerland.
Dangerously high winds forced race officials to lower the start of the race below the Hundshopf jump at the Minschkante, which cut over a full minute off the course. Soft snow skied over during Friday’s super-combined froze overnight, leaving the lower portion of the course particularly rutty.
The conditions weren’t prohibitive enough to faze Miller, who led early before sliding back to fifth behind Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng, Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Austria’s Max Franz. Miller’s effort equaled his season best in a downhill as he also finished fifth at Val Gardena, Italy on Dec. 21. Miller’s best finish was runner-up to Ted Ligety in giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Dec. 8.
“He pushed hard, took a lot of risk, and made up time,” U.S. coach Sasha Rearick said. “With those risks he made a couple of little mistakes, but he was pushing hard and letting the skis go, which is great to see Bode doing again.”
Miller was the highlight of a strong showing overall for the Americans.
Rising speed racer Jared Goldberg continued to make a strong case for Olympic selection. After finishing 20th in Friday’s super-combined, he made a huge jump in the standings, starting with Bib 40 and finishing 12th, the best finish of his career.
“I wasn’t trying to think about it too much coming in, because this year has been just a good learning year for me being my first full year on the World Cup,” Goldberg said of the impending Olympic team nominations. “But I feel really good. It was kind of a confidence builder yesterday to do well in the combined and I’ve been looking toward the downhill. Training runs have been going really well and I knew that if I really sent in there I could do well.”
Two-time Olympian Marco Sullivan finished 16th, equaling his finish of the season. Travis Ganong crossed in 28th.
“I am extremely proud of two other guys, Goldberg and Marco Sullivan,” Rearick said. “Certainly the guys in the early draw had a big advantage today. Jared Goldberg and Marco Sullivan put the hammer down with those conditions top to bottom and did a great, great job. I’m really proud of those guys, Marco with his experience, and Jared being a young guy taking some chances and really pushing it.”
In the next to last downhill race before Olympic teams are selected worldwide — the U.S. will announce it’s roster on Jan. 26 — focus was split between winning the 84th edition of the Lauberhorn classic but with an eye toward Sochi.
For Kueng, the biggest performance of his career couldn’t have come at a better time. The 30-year-old, who won his first career World Cup race on Dec. 7 in the super-G at Beaver Creek, Colo., became Switzerland’s fourth winner of this race in six years.
“It’s incredible,” Kueng told the Associated Press. “It’s very special for me. I think it’s the best place to win a race.”
The victory could bode well for Kueng if judging by past performances. The last Swiss winner in Wengen, Beat Feuz in 2012, went on to triumph at the Olympic test event on the Rosa Khutor slope in Sochi a few weeks later.
“Hats off to Kueng, he’s been skiing amazing this season,” Sullivan told AP. “It’s really not a surprise to the racers.”
For Team Austria, traditionally the powerhouses of Alpine skiing, frustration is mounting on the eve of the Games. They have not seen the top of the podium in a World Cup men’s downhill in 13 months, an eternity for the hyper-competitive squad.
Reichelt had the best opportunity to put an end to that drought, but for the third time this season he played the role of bridesmaid, a runner-up finish by .06 seconds that prompted his coach to rip off his helmet and slam it to the snow.
Compounding those feelings was the fact that Reichelt had knocked on the door of victory in this race before, finishing runner-up to Feuz in 2012 and third behind Italy’s Christof Innerhofer last season, only to have access denied.
“(Patrick) was very consistent this season,” Reichelt told AP. “It was just time until he got the victory.”
Reichelt did, however, bump Svindal down a spot to third place by just one-hundredth of a second. The hulking Norwegian, whose 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame suits the long, gliding sections of the shortened course, entered the race as the favorite, and added to his World Cup overall and downhill standings leads. But he fell short of ending a long Wengen losing streak for his country. The last Norwegian winner of this race was Lasse Kjus in 1999.
Canada’s Erik Guay, a Sochi medal favorite skiing as well as he ever has, also faltered on this course. After winning Thursday’s training run, Guay caught a bad bump entering one of the high-speed turns and skied off course. No Canadian has won this race since Ken Read, a two-time Olympian of “Crazy Cowboys” fame, in 1980.
Alexander Glebov provided a glimpse of what Russian fans can expect from their best skier in Sochi. The 30-year-old, a Slovenian by birth, continued his season-long improvement and finished 51st.
Racing will conclude in Wengen on Sunday with the men’s slalom.
Wengen Men’s Downhill
1. Patrick Kueng (SUI) 1:32.66
2. Hannes Reichelt (AUT) 1:32.72
3. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) 1:32.73
4. Max Franz (AUT) 1:32.90
5. Bode Miller (USA) 1:33.01
6. Matthias Mayer (AUT) 1:33.10
7. Peter Fill (ITA) 1:33.20
8. Romed Bauman (AUT) 1:33.26
9. Johan Clarey (FRA) 1:33.28
T10. Beat Feuz (SUI) 1:33.40
T10. Didier Defago (SUI) 1:33.40
12. Jared Goldberg (USA) 1:33.43
16. Marco Sullivan (USA) 1:33.65
28. Travis Ganong (USA) 1:34.10
T37. Erik Fisher (USA) 1:34.34
48. Steve Nyman (USA) 1:34.79
56. Bryce Bennett (USA) 1:35.00
Ted Ligety’s super-combined win key for Sochi Olympic medal hopes