VAL GARDENA, ITALY – Bode Miller, improving race by race, appears right on schedule to peak for the Sochi Olympics in February.
After taking a year off to recover from left knee surgery, the two-time overall World Cup champion had his best speed finish of this season with a fifth-place result Saturday in the prestigious Val Gardena downhill. That came a day after placing eighth in a super-G to crack the top 10 for the first time in a speed event this year.
Miller would have made the podium if he was just a bit faster on the flats at the beginning of the Saslong course. But he had to deal with cloud cover that limited visibility on the top section when he started. Getting his equipment dialed in after so much time off also has been a factor, he said.
“There’s so many details, you never know what it is that’s really causing the problem,” said the 36-year-old Miller, who has won five Olympic medals, including gold in the super-combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games. “The fact is we just don’t have the whole thing together right now. We’re close, and we’re getting there.”
Canada’s Erik Guay won the race, a year after missing out on the victory because of changing weather that required a shortened course.
Guay clocked 1 minute, 56.65 seconds down a course lined with huge jumps and filled with tricky terrain, making up time over the last few gates to edge Kjetil Jansrud of Norway by 0.12 seconds.
“It is sweet,” Guay said. “I skied really well and took the chances necessary.”
Guay earned his fourth career World Cup victory, along with gold in downhill at the 2011 world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Johan Clarey of France finished third, 0.24 back, and overall World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal was fourth.
Miller finished 0.39 back, making up more than half a second on the technical lower section.
“I’ve been skiing well,” he said. “Any section of any course where it’s technical, and I’m able to do my thing, I’m pulling back time on everybody pretty much.”
Miller is traveling the circuit in his motor home with his wife, Morgan, and his son, who has been the subject of a custody dispute.
“He’s coming into it, and it’s really cool to watch,” said Morgan Miller, a pro beach volleyball player. “Seeing him kind of transform into what he was a few years ago, I think he’s just getting better and better. You can see it.”
Guay thought he had won this race last year until a drastic weather change forced organizers to shorten the course, with Steven Nyman of the United States taking the win and Guay relegated to third.
“I know that ski racing is like that,” Guay said. “I’ve been on the good side of the hundredths and I’ve benefited from good weather sometimes. So you take it when you can and you forget it when you’re on the other side.”
Nyman was an early starter this time and made a big mistake midway down and had to make an acrobatic recovery to avoid injury. His race ended there.
Nyman was impressed with Miller’s skiing on the turns. He said Miller’s recent weight loss — he’s more than 9 kg lighter this season — is slowing him down on the straights.
“If you’re just going in a straight line, weight makes a big, big difference,” Nyman said. “Especially on a course like this.”
“I feel good. I feel balanced. I feel athletic on my skis,” he said. “I’m still probably one of the 10 heaviest people in World Cup. . . . I’m still 6-2 (188 cm) and pretty decked. There’s only a few guys who are bigger.”