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Some skiers, however, manipulate the system by slowing near the finish in hopes of starting earlier. Miller wanted to start the Bormio downhill as early as possible. "For the early starters the visibility is bad, but the snow conditions are perfect," Miller said. "Later, the visibility is better, but the snow is chopped up. I'm so high on the edges of my skis that I pay a higher price in bad snow, but I see pretty well in bad light."
In a bid for a slow qualifying time, which would give him an early start, Miller chose to stand in the start house, activate the timing wand with his pole and count one thousand one, one thousand two before heading down the hill, in effect adding two seconds to his time. The result was a 28th-place finish in training that left him starting at a near-perfect No. 3. Had he been slightly slower, he would have slipped to a deadly No. 31 start or worse. "I've been messing around with opening the wand for a while," Miller said. "It never worked as perfectly as it did here. I was right on the edge. That was as big a factor as anything I did in the race."
What he did in the race was carve a hard, fast line on clean snow, but he so badly burned out his legs that he staggered through the final three turns on memory, finishing in 1:56.22. "I didn't think the time would hold up," Miller said. "I figured somebody would have a solid run and knock me down."
Only Rahlves came within a half second. One week earlier, still sore from a horrible Jan. 11 crash in a giant slalom race in Adelboden, Switzerland, and uncomfortable skiing on the soft Bormio snow (he is better on hard, icy snow), Rahlves finished a disappointing 10th in the world championship Super G, the event that he won in 2001. He went back to hiscustom-made bus and watched surfing videos--"A good way to get in the flow," he said--and stopped taking Mobic, the Vioxx-like painkiller he needed for "internal trauma" in his lower left leg.
On Saturday, Rahlves made only small mistakes on a jump early in the run and on a series of turns in the middle. Like Miller, he was subdued in the finish corral, until each of the five Austrians who followed--including the fading Hermann Maier, who finished 17th--were at the bottom. Then Miller and Rahlves sprayed each other with champagne. For Rahlves, 21, there was only a small element of the bittersweet, much like when he finished second behind Miller by .16 of a second in a World Cup downhill on Dec. 3 at Beaver Creek, Colo. "It's no problem," Rahlves said. "This is all cool."
Cooler than it turned out for Lindsey Kildow, 20, who arrived at the world championships as the breakout star of the U.S. women's team with a World Cup downhill victory in December and 10 top 10 finishes. "I want to medal here, go to the Olympics, then try for the overall [World Cup]," Kildow said before the worlds began. She finished a disappointing ninth in the first weekend's Super G but then skied terrifically in the combined and the downhill, only to finish fourth in each, missing two bronze medals by a total of less than half a second. She was scheduled to ski the giant slalom on Tuesday.
Over the first nine days in Bormio, Kildow candidly admitted being overwhelmed by her sudden place in the spotlight, but on Sunday she vowed through tears to train harder and be more prepared for the Olympics, 12 months away. "This race is going to be forever in my mind," Kildow said after the downhill. "I guess maybe my time is next year."
Miller doesn't guess. He knows. He will race the giant slalom and slalom this week in Bormio, then try to win the World Cup overall title--all en route to potentially becoming the U.S. Olympic face of 2006, the Michael Phelps of the Winter Games in Turin. "It'll feel big, I know that," Miller said on Saturday, walking near the finish stadium. As if on cue, a blast of wind stiffened a huge promotional banner. On it were four letters: bode. ?