VAL GARDENA, Italy - With Bode Miller leading the way, U.S. skiers dominated a World Cup race like never before. Miller now wonders if his decision to race independently quickened the development of some of his former teammates.
Miller finished second to Austria’s Michael Walchhofer on Saturday in the classic Saslong downhill. The New Hampshire skier was 0.38 seconds behind the winning time of 1 minute, 50.57 seconds.
Miller led a record contingent of five Americans in the top 10. He also revived the defense of his overall World Cup title, moving up to ninth in the standings from 13th.
“A lot of the things I was bringing up over the last 10 years have been changed and improved, and have allowed the guys to have the program that they have now,” Miller said.
Marco Sullivan of Tahoe City, Calif., took fourth for the U.S.; Erik Fisher of Middleton, Idaho, was a career-best seventh; 2006 winner Steven Nyman of Provo, Utah, finished ninth; and TJ Lanning of Park City, Utah, placed 10th.
Miller split from the U.S. team before last season and now trains and races on his own, although he still wears the team uniform to conform with International Ski Federation rules. Miller’s main problem with the American federation concerned accommodations — he insists on sleeping in his personal motor home instead of the team hotel.
Miller now travels with three motor homes — one for himself, one for his coaches and one for his ski technicians.
“I was always the one bringing up issues and bringing attention to things that I thought needed to be fixed,” Miller said. “And of course that can bring negative energy also, which nobody really needs. ... But it’s hard to get things done if you’re not willing to talk about it, and none of the other guys talk about it.”
Scott Macartney of Kirkland, Wash., finished 15th for his best result since a crash that left him unconscious in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last season.
“The whole team is really tight right now, and we all get along well,” he said. “There’s really good communication on race days when we call up (course reports), and we have fun together.”
Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished third, 0.54 behind, and Canadian teammate Erik Guay was fifth in a banner day for North Americans.
“This was like a Nor-Am race in Europe,” Osborne-Paradis said. “When two teams come together you’re able to combine forces. We all hang out together and train together and it’s starting to pay off.”
Nyman became the first American to win the downhill at this slope two years ago, and Macartney finished third last year. Miller, who now has three podium finishes in Val Gardena, said it was just a matter of gaining confidence.
“The North American teams underperform on a regular basis,” Miller said. “You go back and ski in Nor-Ams and races in the U.S. and the level is high. I go back there after winning the overall World Cup and get beat by guys that are skiing aggressive with a lot of confidence. The problem is they come over to the World Cup and don’t have that kind of confidence.”
Fisher, who won a bronze medal in the downhill at the junior world championships in 2005, agreed with Miller after fighting into contention with the No. 52 bib.
“At the beginning of the year I was struggling so I needed a little help with my confidence,” Fisher said. “But now I know I can compete with these guys and now it’s game on.”
Walchhofer ended Austria’s one-year victory drought in the discipline that skiing’s “Wunder Team” once dominated.
No Austrian man or woman had won a downhill since Walchhofer finished first Val Gardena one year and five days ago. The last Austrian woman to win skiing’s signature race was Renate Goetschl in March 2007.
“This was a very important target for me. I’ve waited a long time for this,” said Walchhofer, who took the lead in the downhill standings from Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. “I would describe my run as almost perfect. I was really able to let my skis run the way I wanted to.”
Svindal finished 34th but still leads the overall standings with 398 points. Miller has 240.
The circuit moves to nearby Alta Badia for a giant slalom and slalom Sunday and Monday. Miller won the GS on the Gran Risa in 2002 and finished second two years ago.