Published February 26, 2010
WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Bode Miller put down one solid slalom run en route to winning the super-combined for his first Olympic gold medal. Now he needs two to make Olympic history.
Miller has one last shot at becoming the first man to win four medals in Alpine skiing at a single Olympics in Saturday's slalom — the final Alpine event of the Vancouver Games.
The American is also striving to become the first skier — man or woman — to win medals in all five Alpine disciplines over the course of a career.
"Slalom is one of those events where there's no margin for error. You've got to go 100 percent," Miller said. "There's no guarantees at all, but that's definitely the goal."
Miller skied the third-fastest run in the slalom leg of the super-combined, but he hasn't won a strictly slalom race in more than five years — since he beat Swiss racer Silvan Zurbriggen by a massive 1.27-second margin in Sestriere, Italy, in December 2004.
Miller has shown other signs of a slalom resurgence, finishing second in Levi, Finland, at the beginning of last season — his only podium result since Sestriere — but as a four-event skier he struggles to find enough training time to compete with the slalom specialists.
"Slalom in my mind is the toughest event. It's at the highest level right now," Miller said. "With (Felix) Neureuther and (Reinfried) Herbst and (Benjamin) Raich, there's 15 guys who are skiing at a level that is above what I've ever seen before.
"I'm trying to come back into what I think is the most challenging event right now. ... I mean, I've been focused on it for a five-event skier, but that doesn't say much really. I don't have a lot of time to throw at it."
Miller's attacking style presents a challenge to complete two solid runs. More often than not, he straddles a gate, skis off course or falls. Of the 48 World Cup slaloms he's entered since that victory in Italy, Miller has failed to finish or been disqualified 32 times.
Of the four slaloms Miller has raced this season, he didn't finish two, and placed 14th and 26th in the others.
"When you ski slalom well, it's the best event there is," Miller said. "When you ski it poorly, it's the worst event there is."
Miller opened the Vancouver Games by taking bronze in downhill. He followed that with silver in super-G and then won the super-combined. The New Hampshire native failed to finish his opening run in Tuesday's giant slalom, his first shot at breaking the medal record.
Only four other male skiers have won three medals in Alpine at the Olympics. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway has three this time, and his former teammate, Kjetil Andre Aamodt, got his at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Toni Sailer of Austria swept all three Alpine races held at the 1956 Cortina Games and French great Jean-Claude Killy did the same at the 1968 Grenoble Games.
Among the women, Croatian great Janica Kostelic won four medals, three golds and one silver, at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Miller also won silvers in combined and giant slalom in Salt Lake City.
Miller's teammate, Ted Ligety, also has some business to take care of in the slalom. Ligety won a surprise gold in combined at the 2006 Turin Games, and put most of his efforts into the giant slalom in Whistler, but finished ninth.
Like Miller, Ligety can look to his slalom performance from the super-combined, when he posted the fastest run.
"I feel like I have a good chance," Ligety said. "I won the slalom portion of super-combined and there were some good slalom skiers in that field. We'll see. It's not the event that I'm really favored in, but I feel like if I put together two good runs in sections where I know I have been (slow) this year, then I could be up there."
Statistically, Jimmy Cochran of Keene, N.H., has been the U.S. team's top slalom skier this season.
Austria boasts the top-ranked slalom skier — Herbst. And the defending champion — Raich.
Herbst has won four of the eight slaloms this season, including the last two, and the pressure is on for another win since no Austrian man has won an Alpine medal so far at the 2010 Games.
The Austrian women have won four medals, with Raich's girlfriend Marlies Schild rounding out the collection with silver in Friday's slalom.
"Everyone knows they can do more," Schild said of her male counterparts. "But they had not enough luck. There is a race left tomorrow and maybe we can get three medals there."
Four years ago in Turin, Austria did just that — they swept the podium in slalom, with Herbst taking silver behind Raich and Rainer Schoenfelder claiming bronze.
The other Austrian threats are Marcel Hirscher and Manfred Pranger, who won the slalom at last season's world championships in Val d'Isere, France.
Julien Lizeroux of France is second in the World Cup slalom standings and Ivica Kostelic of Croatia — the super-combined silver medalist — is third.
Host Canada's hopes to finally win a medal in Alpine lie with Michael Janyk, who took bronze in Val d'Isere.
Italy also hasn't won an Alpine medal for the second consecutive Olympics, and no Italian man has won an Olympic medal in the sport since Alberto Tomba took a silver in slalom at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Giuliano Razzoli, who won a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, in January and was then hoisted onto Tomba's shoulders, will attempt to snap that streak.
Neureuther, the son of 1976 slalom and downhill Olympic champion Rosi Mittermaier and successful World Cup racer Christian Neureuther, posted his first victory in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month.