In a big week for U.S. skiers, Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves were joined on the podium by rising star Ted Ligety
Scarcely two months before the 2006 Olympics, Bode Miller remains the biggest celebrity on the U.S. ski team. At last week's World Cup stop at Beaver Creek in Colorado, fans wore T-shirts celebrating the launch of a Nike ad campaign--JOIN BODE--tied to Miller's iconoclastic personality and attended the U.S. premiere of an independent filmmaker's biopic on Bode. They also watched the gifted 28-year-old ski some remarkable races.
Miller, the reigning World Cup overall champion, who will ski five Olympic events in Turin, Italy, has dominated pre-Games hype. Judging from the results in Beaver Creek, however, medals will be more evenly distributed than publicity, and the U.S. team could even be strong enough to challenge Austria in the skiing medal count.
Miller reached the podium twice in Colorado, finishing second behind teammate Daron Rahlves in last Friday's downhill before beating Rahlves with a vintage Bode-esque, on-the-edge tour de force in Saturday's giant slalom. ( U.S. veteran Erik Schlopy was fourth in that race despite skiing the second of his two runs with a broken left hand suffered when he whacked a gate in the first run.) On Sunday, Miller missed a gate and failed to qualify for a second run in the slalom, while much-buzzed-about 21-year-old U.S. teammate Ted Ligety finished third, reaching the first World Cup podium of his career.
Miller continues to treat his pre-Olympic fame like sour milk--"Do you think I'm having fun now?" he asked reporters after his giant slalom win--but left little doubt that his epic skills are intact. On his second GS run, he bounced his left hip off the snow at the top of the course and cleared a bottom gate while almost sitting on his skis. "Miller was absolutely possessed," said U.S. head coach Phil McNichol.
Miller will take a sore left knee to Europe for the balance of the World Cup season. Already managing a chronically painful patella tendon in that knee, Miller told SI that he hurt the lateral meniscus on a jump during the Beaver Creek downhill. "I'm pretty sure I cracked or tore the meniscus," he said. Miller said that orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman recommended that he undergo an arthroscopy on Sunday or Monday in Vail, but Miller declined.
"The knee is doing pretty crappy," Miller told SI, "but it's just pain and swelling, and I'm used to that. It doesn't keep me from doing anything I want to do." Miller does not expect the injury to affect his performances but said he might skip some World Cup races in December or January to rest his knee for Turin.
Rahlves, meanwhile, has never been healthier, having scored PR's on fitness and power testing last month at team headquarters in Park City, Utah. The 32-year-old from Truckee, Calif., was the star of the U.S. team before Miller burst onto the scene in 2002. Since then Miller has won 20 World Cup races, four world titles and two Olympic silver medals. Rahlves has had eight World Cup wins and was second to Miller in last February's world championships downhill.
Rahlves is likely to retire after this season, but he will concede nothing to Miller before then. "I'm not putting in all this effort to finish behind somebody," he said after winning the downhill.