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Miller is no longer a clear favorite



Published: Fri, January 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Last victory was Dec. 13 heading into Alpine Skiing World Championships.

BORMIO, Italy (AP) -- A month ago, the Alpine Skiing World Championships seemed destined to become the Bode Miller Show.

Now it appears an ensemble cast of talent will take turns in the spotlight when the 16-day event begins Saturday.

Opening the World Cup season with four victories in five races -- one in giant slalom, two in downhill and another in super-G -- Miller seemed unbeatable. He won the slalom in Sestriere to capture four disciplines in 16 days, the shortest span ever.

The idea of Miller making a clean sweep of the six events at the world championships did not sound outrageous. "For the moment, I'm just happy to have achieved something which was important to me since I started to race all specialties," Miller said after his remarkable start. "I knew I could do it and I'm happy to prove that I was right."

But now, without a victory since Dec. 13, Miller looks a bit less formidable.

Many contenders

Skiers from seven nations have won men's World Cup races this season; 12 countries have top-three finishes. Austrians Michael Walchhofer and Benjamin Raich -- now within 100 points of Miller in the overall standings -- as well as Miller's American teammate Daron Rahlves and Canadian Thomas Grandi have all shown they're capable of winning.

Italians Giorgio Rocca and Massimiliano Blardone will be looking to win on home snow, while Norwegian veterans Lasse Kjus and Kjetil Andre Aamodt are possible spoilers.

Sweden's Anja Paerson and Croatia's Janica Kostelic are the two main overall threats in the women's events, which begin with a super-G on Sunday. Up-and-coming American Lindsey Kildow, who has one victory and seven podium finishes this season, will also be a threat in downhill and super-G.

Miller never lacks for confidence, but he simply hasn't been the same since winning the season's first two downhills. He's returned to the podium only once in Alpine skiing's banner event, a third place in Wengen.

"Bode enters the season at a naturally strong level," U.S. men's coach Phil McNichol said. "Others catch up later in the season as they evolve, spend more time training, sort out their equipment. Because Bode races everything, he doesn't have much time to train or test equipment."

Walchhofer -- who as defending world champion won't need to fight for a downhill berth on the deep Austrian squad -- is a gold medal favorite after winning the long and grueling Lauberhorn race. The World Cup discipline leader was also runner-up behind teammate Johann Grugger in a dress rehearsal here a month ago. Grugger, also victorious in Chamonix, is another contender.




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