Miller goes for gold in wide-open super-combi
VAL D’ISERE, France ” The men’s super-combined event scheduled for Monday might just be the most open race at the World Championships ” and Bode Miller’s best chance of a gold medal.
The American skier is one of the favorites to succeed Daniel Albrecht, the super-combi champion at the 2007 worlds who is currently in an induced coma in Austria after a horrific training crash.
It would also be Miller’s first victory of a season marked by unpredictable results across the men’s circuit.
Eighteen different men have won in the 26 World Cup events run so far and the first two gold medalists at the worlds ” Didier Cuche in super-G and John Kucera in downhill ” were winless before arriving in the French Alps.
Miller won six times on his way to the overall World Cup title last season, including a super-combi in Val d’Isere last February over the same format of a shortened downhill run and a slalom leg.
The 31-year-old American had a midseason slump in slalom when he was hampered by an ankle injury, but has rediscovered his form with a pair of top-10 finishes in the past two weeks.
“Judging how he skied slalom in the last races in Schladming (Austria) and Garmisch (Germany) and with how he skied downhill here, he should be in contention,” said Forest Carey, Miller’s coach.
His eighth place in Saturday’s downhill would surely have been better had fog not swept across the Bellevarde mountain during his run, obscuring him from view along one upper section.
At a championships where visibility on the slopes has been a big issue, it is ironic that Monday’s super-combi slalom will now be run under floodlights.
The start has been pushed back to 5 p.m. local time to accommodate the rescheduled women’s downhill. That race was canceled Sunday by heavy snow and now has a 1 p.m. time slot on Monday.
Jean-Baptiste Grange is sure to enjoy his time in the spotlight. The Frenchman won a Jan. 6 slalom at night in Zagreb, Croatia, and is competing in his first medal race in his home region of Rhone-Alpes.
The 24-year-old Grange is a technical specialist, but prepared for the super-combi by placing ninth in downhill training Friday, and was the fastest man down the icy bottom section that will stage the slalom.
Carlo Janka of Switzerland was fastest on that same section ” memorably described as “bulletproof ice” by Miller ” when he won bronze in the downhill, and has the proven all-around skills required for Val d’Isere.
He got his first World Cup top-10 finish in Miller’s super-combi victory a year ago, and claimed his first victory, in a giant slalom, in December.
Swiss men’s head coach Martin Rufener believes Janka, known in his home country as “The Iceman,” can win if he gets a fast start.
“He has to have a good downhill run, like he had the other day,” said Rufener, who will also field World Cup super-combi standings leader Silvan Zurbriggen.
The 22-year-old Janka has added motivation to follow his good friend Albrecht as champion.
He was Albrecht’s roommate in Kitzbuehel, Austria, when the 25-year-old Swiss crashed in downhill training on Jan. 22. Albrecht remains at a hospital in Innsbruck where doctors removed fluid from his lungs Sunday as they prepare to wake him in the coming days.
Janka also won the opening super-G portion of a super-combi in Val d’Isere in December won by Benjamin Raich of Austria.
“The slope is really difficult. It’s steep, it’s icy and it’s bumpy,” said Raich, who was fifth in the super-G. “I showed that I’m in shape.”
Ted Ligety of the United States returns to action Monday after taking a fall in the super-G.
“I just try to treat every race the same, try not to put too much pressure on myself for any individual race,” said Ligety, the 2006 Olympic champion in traditional combined when the event comprised a downhill and two slalom runs.
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