Closing Time: Miller Races in Slalom Today
Feb. 25, 2006
SESTRIERE, Italy (AP) _ It's closing time at the last chance slalom. Last chance for Bode Miller to win a Turin Olympics medal, even if he seems as interested in having a great time at the local saloons as producing a great time on the slopes.
Last chance for the U.S. Ski Team to top its 2002 Olympic total of two medals _ and the goal was eight.
Last chance for Italy to capture an Alpine medal, the host's hopes resting squarely on the shoulders of World Cup slalom leader Giorgio Rocca.
And Saturday's race is the last chance for 21-year-old American Ted Ligety to add a medal to his surprising gold in the men's combined, which he won by stringing together two flawless slalom runs.
Another victory would make Ligety the first U.S. man to take two Alpine titles at a single Olympics. No American man has finished higher than seventh in the slalom since twins Phil and Steve Mahre went 1-2 at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.
If Ligety does, he'll be a certified star well before he, his parents or his coaches thought possible. He's already been sifting through various offers, including an appearance on David Letterman's ``Late Show.''
``I'd say I'm pretty confident,'' Ligety said. ``I definitely know I can ski to win.''
Miller will tell you that winning isn't that important. Sports shouldn't be only about results or medals, he says, but about the participation, the challenge, the joy of it all.
``If you're unhappy with the way you played,'' Miller asked this week, ``what's the point?''
Miller won two silvers at Salt Lake City four years ago, yet counts the 1998 Nagano Games as his favorite Olympics because he was subject neither to pressure nor attention. He entered these games under plenty of scrutiny: Not only was he the reigning overall World Cup champion, the first American to do that in 22 years, but his statements on topics from doping to drinking grabbed international attention.
Miller was fifth in the downhill, disqualified in the combined, skied out in the super-G, and tied for sixth in the giant slalom. He attributed some of those results to ``pilot error.''
``You never can count Bode Miller out,'' U.S. Alpine director Jesse Hunt said Friday. ``He can put down a great performance, and he obviously has got something to prove in the last race.''
There are other factors that could affect his slalom performance, including tendinitis in his left knee and a bum ankle from a pickup basketball game with teammates. Then there are Miller's recent problems in the event, which used to be his best; since winning a World Cup slalom at Sestriere in December 2004, Miller has failed to finish 11 of 14 slaloms. His vaunted all-or-nothing approach has become something closer to nothing-or-nothing.
Suddenly, Rocca has Millerlike problems, skiing off-course in the last two World Cup slaloms. Before that, he had won five in a row. To refocus, Rocca has been working with his sports psychologist, Turin University professor Beppe Vercelli.
They did hypnosis sessions in Val d'Aosta, about 150 miles away, where Rocca and Italy's other slalom skiers trained this week.
``Right now he's in ideal condition, just like at the start of the season,'' Vercelli said. ``He can face the race with all of his resources at hand _ physical, technical, mental.''
Vercelli, who works with the entire Italian Alpine skiing team, said Rocca decided not to do a pre-race news conference because he didn't want to ``waste energy.''
Miller also considers dealing with reporters a bother. On the other hand, he doesn't appear to have many qualms about wasting energy _ he's been out so much that even Vercelli ran into the American at the local discotheque.
``My personal opinion, not knowing him, is that his strength is in his creativity and in his capacity for having fun in an exaggerated way on the ski course,'' the psychologist said. ``Now, for some reason _ maybe he's changed, or maybe it's the expectations he faces _ he's finding fun in another way.''
Miller's father, Woody, has talked here about his son's ``ambivalence with succeeding,'' something the skiing star spoke about at length during November's World Cup stop in Beaver Creek, Colo.
``The days where you crash, you ... get your drink, get your clothes, cruise to the lodge, take your boots off, have some food, go home, take a nice shower, hang out with your buddies, read your book,'' Miller said.
``When you have success, you have to do the whole media push, you have to go through drug testing and you have to keep your boots on for an extra 45 minutes,'' he continued. ``That stuff sounds small, but it's not why I signed on for the sport.''
Miller won't have to worry about the defending champion, Jean-Pierre Vidal of France, who withdrew after breaking his left arm while skiing for pleasure Friday, his 29th birthday. French ski team technical director Gerard Rougier said Vidal, who had planned to retire after the slalom, may need surgery.