Crash course in victory Miller falls at finish line, but still prevails in downhill

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WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) – The old Bode Miller is back. He’s winning, he’s joking and, of course, he’s taking risks.

Miller skied aggressively in the final turns before crashing across the finish line to win the hallowed Lauberhorn downhill Saturday, moving within two wins of Phil Mahre’s U.S. record for World Cup victories.

Miller was timed in 2 minutes, 28.89 seconds for his 25th World Cup win, 0.65 seconds faster than Didier Cuche of Switzerland. Peter Fill of Italy was third, 1.47 seconds behind Miller. American Steven Nyman was 11th.

“It’s tough. I knew I was pretty much going to crash in the finish if I skied the last ‘S’ like I wanted to,” Miller said. “I was pretty prepared for it.

“When you ski for 2 minutes, 30 seconds before that and you don’t know how far you’re going to jump, well, let’s say I didn’t have it in my head I was going to land on my feet.”

It was Miller’s fourth World Cup win in downhill, and his first downhill triumph outside North America. Mahre had 27 victories – all in slalom, giant slalom and combined – before retiring in 1984.

At 2.8 miles, the Lauberhorn is the longest downhill on the World Cup circuit and also one of the most physically demanding slopes. The final “S” turn just before the finish line is a spectacularly difficult set of sharp curves. Skiers end their run with a huge jump, landing just before the finish line.

Miller nailed the “S” section but appeared to have no strength left in his legs when he landed the jump, slumping to the ground and sliding across the finish line.

It marked Miller’s second downhill win of the season, adding to his triumph at Beaver Creek, Colo.

“If he really knew before starting that he was going to crash and it was part of his tactics and game plan, then he’s crazier than I am,” Cuche said. “I don’t think this is a good tactic. He was lucky and I hope he stays healthy until the end of the season.”

It was Miller’s fourth victory this World Cup season. He had just two wins last season, and mediocre results at the Turin Olympics. At a post-race news conference, Miller was relaxed, funny and loquacious. Last season, he often was grumpy with reporters.

“I think he’s getting back to being the same guy he was,” U.S. teammate Marco Sullivan said. “He was a little standoffish toward everyone, the media and coaches. I think he felt everyone was trying to (sabotage) him. Bode is the same guy he was. He’s not a bad guy at all, no matter what people try to say.”

The victory was the second straight by a U.S. skier on the Lauberhorn, following Daron Rahlves’ win last year.

Eleven skiers crashed mid-race and others fell at the finish. Sullivan fell so violently that his helmet flew off, but he was not hurt.

“The soldier dude gave it back to me and the neck strap was still closed,” Sullivan said. “Next time I’ll have to strap it a bit tighter.”

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who was eighth in 2:30.75, still leads the World Cup overall standings with 671 points after 19 races. Cuche is second with 651, and Miller is third with 640.

Cuche kept the discipline leader’s red bib. He tops the downhill standings with 410 points, followed by Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel with 293 and Austria’s Michael Walchhofer with 286. Miller is fifth with 270.

Miller wasn’t the only skier to fall across the finish line Saturday. Austria’s Fritz Strobl, the 2002 Olympic champion, and Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin of France also had scary crashes there.

The final “S” turn has been the site of gruesome accidents over the years.

In 1991, Austrian rookie Gernot Reinstadler died from massive internal injuries after crashing there. Adrien Duvillard of France suffered a serious head trauma in 1997 when he hit a fence.

Also Saturday, race organizers announced they would replace Sunday’s World Cup slalom in Wengen with a super-combi race. The super-combi was washed out Friday by rain.

A super-combi consists of a downhill run and a slalom leg. Officials felt the downhill and slalom courses could handle one run each Sunday. And it is generally easier to reschedule a slalom than a super-combi on the World Cup tour.

Christoph Bieler wins Nordic combined World Cup

VAL DI FIEMME, Italy – Christoph Bieler of Austria won a Nordic combined World Cup event Saturday for his third victory of the season.

The win moved Bieler into first place in the World Cup standings. He finished with 241.7 points, 3.5 more than teammate Felix Gottwald. Jason Lamy Chappuis of France was third with 237.5 points. Bieler was 25th after the 10-kilometer, mass-start race – behind leader Hannu Manninen of Finland – but rallied in the jumps, coming in second to Norway’s Espen Rian.

After nine of 19 races, Bieler has 496 points, 41 more than Manninen, who finished sixth.

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