BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) – Bode Miller’s coach blamed foggy goggles.

Miller’s U.S. teammate, fifth-place finisher Daron Rahlves, thought the swirling, 50 mph wind and falling snow called for a less aggressive approach to a World Cup super-G on Thursday.

If Miller has an explanation for why he failed to finish the race, or why his World Cup title defense is off to a slow start, he didn’t offer one, avoiding reporters at the bottom of the hill.

After speeding through the opening section Thursday, Miller couldn’t navigate a gate about halfway down the Birds of Prey course and skied off course. It was the third straight disappointing showing for the American, who was 18th and 22nd in two races at Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend.

“It’s tough to see. He’s had a tough beginning of this tour. Am I panicking about it? No. He’ll pull it together,” U.S. Ski Team speed coach John McBride said. “Bode, on any given day, can win a race if he puts all his ducks in a row.”

McBride said Miller’s goggles froze from the top down, meaning he had to lift his head to try to peer through the bottom of the lenses. M

cBride said he thought Miller hesitated at a tough gate trying to figure out how to attack it, and by the time he decided it was too late.

On a day that several skiers thought the conditions were too poor to even hold a race, and 17 of 56 entrants didn’t finish, Hannes Reichelt of Austria picked up his first World Cup victory less than nine months after tearing ligaments in his left knee.

Reichelt, who finished in 1 minute, 17.33 seconds, acknowledged he might have caught a break when the wind seemed to back off a bit as he skied the middle section of the course that gave so many others trouble.

“In the middle part, I got the good conditions,” he said. “I tried to risk a lot, and maybe that’s the reason I was so fast today.”

Erik Guay of Canada was second, only 0.04 seconds behind, with Matthias Lanzinger of Austria third in 1:17.49. Four-time overall champion Hermann Maier was eighth.

“Race day here was a little sketchy. It was tough conditions. It’s hard on the mind because you really want to attack, but then with the conditions and this kind of hill you have to be really conservative on the line,” said Rahlves, third behind Miller and Maier in last season’s super-G standings.

“I made one little mistake where I went a little too direct and it was costly.”

Miller reached the course’s first interval in 21.53 seconds. Only one skier, 1998 Olympics super-G silver medalist Didier Cuche of Switzerland, was faster, and he, too, went off course shortly thereafter. Reichelt, in contrast, was only 13th-fastest to the first time check.

It might have been a case of Miller getting off to too fast a start.

“He just had no chance. He could have made that next gate, but he would have been skating,” said Rahlves, third in the super-G standings after two races. “This is a hill where you have to be more conservative than anything else.”

That type of approach has never been one of Miller’s hallmarks, and his attacking style suited him particularly well last season.

He won six of the first 10 World Cup races en route to becoming the first American man in 22 years to take the overall title. He also won the super-G World Cup trophy, never finishing lower than fifth in that event in 2004-05, and took that discipline title at the World Championships in January.

So what’s wrong now? After a second-place finish behind Maier in the season-opening giant slalom at Solden, Austria, Miller hasn’t produced top results and is 10th in the overall standings. He talked this week about the off-slope commitments that take time and energy – and that he doesn’t really enjoy.

Thursday’s race was his 118th in a row.

“The idea is to race if I’m feeling healthy and not feeling too worn down and tired and if the motivation’s there,” Miller said Tuesday. “It’s a pretty narrow margin that I’m dealing with right now. More narrow than it has been ever before in my career.”

For Reichelt, in contrast, the start to the World Cup season has gone far better than he would have imagined. He tore up his knee during a lower-tier race in Italy in March, then was off skis for five months.

After showing promise with three top-eight super-G finishes during the 2002-03 season, including a second place at Val Gardena, Italy, he never really came close to such results until this week.

He was eighth in Sunday’s super-G at Lake Louise, then topped that Thursday.

“It’s been a hard time,” Reichelt said. “When I started skiing again, my goal was just to ski without pain.”

AP-ES-12-01-05 1808EST

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