Bode Miller wins World Cup season opener |

Bode Miller wins World Cup season opener

AP Photo American Bode Miller clears a gate during the men's ski World Cup giant slalom race Sunday in Soelden, Austria. Miller won the race ahead of Italy's Massimiliano Blardone and Finland's Kalle Palander.

SOELDEN, Austria – Bode Miller’s quest to become the first American in more than two decades to win the World Cup overall title got off to the perfect start.Miller captured the season-opening giant slalom by more than a second Sunday, reasserting his dominance of the discipline he won last season.”It’s the first race of season, and you never know how the others are skiing,” Miller said. “It’s a challenging hill and I almost went down couple of times in the second run, so when I got across the finish line I was already excited, never mind the time difference.”No American has won the overall title since Phil Mahre in 1983, but Miller believes he is ready to break that drought. He finished fourth overall last season.

“I just turned 27 a week ago and I think I’m at the point where I have a lot of experience. I know all the hills, I know what it takes to win on them, even if I haven’t won on them yet. I have what it takes. I think the sky is the limit,” Miller said.The victory was the 13th of Miller’s career, including seven in giant slalom. He also has three slalom wins and three in combined events.By winning in Soelden for the second straight season, the defending World Cup giant slalom champion helped cap an embarrassing weekend for the Austrians – who were kept off the podium on home snow in women’s and men’s races.Miller reached the bottom of the steep Rettenbach Gletscher course in a two-run time of 2 minutes, 16.44 seconds, a whopping 1.17 seconds ahead of Italy’s Massimiliano Blardone.

“It’s good to be on the podium,” said Blardone, who is still seeking his first career victory. “With Bode’s time, I don’t think I could have climbed a higher step. I’m very aggressive and I’d like to be on the podium as much as possible. But when you see who is there, you know it will be tough.”Finland’s Kalle Palander, who finished second to Miller last season in the giant slalom standings, was third.Austria won last season’s Nations Cup with more points than the three closest countries combined. But it failed to place a skier in the top three in a women’s giant slalom on Saturday, and again in the men’s race on Sunday.”The last few weeks, the Austrian skiers have been focusing on downhill and super-G training and weren’t as concentrated on the giant slalom as skiers from other nations,” said Austrian men’s sports director Toni Giger. “The next races Austria will be on the podium again.”

Racing for the first time since hurting his left knee in a giant slalom crash in Park City, Utah, last November, American Eric Schlopy finished 17th. Teammate Dane Spencer was 25th. Speed specialist Daron Rahlves, who has added the giant slalom to his program this season, fell on the first leg.”My knee is no longer a problem,” said Schlopy, who won a bronze medal in slalom at the 2003 world championships. “It’s a good place to start.”Schlopy raced with a message to his sister on his helmet: “Happy Birthday, Keri.”Slalom world champion Ivica Kostelic, competing in his first race since a crash last January that required knee surgery, failed to qualify for the second run after finishing 47th on the first leg.”I’m rusty,” said Kostelic, who has undergone six knee operations in the last five years. “The knee is also the problem. I’m skiing on one leg. The tendon is hard and no longer stretches. And when I feel pain, I lift the leg. It’s instinctive.”

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