CARRABASSETT VALLEY – The Biblical lamentation that a prophet is without honor in his own country doesn’t apply to Bode Miller.

In the realm of competitive ski racing, from Japan to Jackson Hole, Miller is famously scrutinized, scoffed at, psychoanalyzed and generally viewed as the sport’s resident bad boy, even as he approaches relative senior citizen status at 28.

But here on the hill that helped make him an icon, Miller could complain about his Mom, condemn apple pie or diss Bruce Springsteen and still be the conquering hero. His triumphant re-entry Saturday at the U.S. Alpine Championships, hailed by the clanging of cowbells and the pitter-patter of little children’s snow boots, concluded with a blistering run and a national championship in the downhill at Sugarloaf/USA.

Miller covered the bumpy, slushy 600 meters of vertical drop in 1 minute, 15.27 seconds, outdueling decade-long teammate and rival Daron Rahlves and recent Olympic team snub J.J. Johnson. The Carrabassett Valley Academy product delighted the hundreds of partisans lining Narrow Gauge from top to bottom with his seventh career U.S. title in five different disciplines.

“This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen here,” said Miller.

Yes, Rahlves is retiring after this competition. Sure, Olympic combined gold medalist Ted Ligety is the flavor of the month. But there’s zero question whom the masses followed Route 27 to see.

“It was exciting to be at the top and see about a hundred kids looking up at you,” said Rahlves, who rode the polite support of Miller’s faithful to a silver medal with a time of 1:15.88 in the final downhill race of his career.

“It felt a little bit like the Kitzbuehl of Maine.”

The speedy, edgy Miller and the technician Rahlves are no strangers to finishing one-two, or two-one, in a significant ski race. They’ve done it six times over the last two seasons on the World Cup circuit.

Johnson, who won the Federation International de Ski (FIS) tune-up on Friday, earned the bronze on the first official day of the championships with a time of 1:16.14. That put him just ahead of two competitors who nosed him out for a trip to Turin last month: Scott Macartney (fourth, 1:16.40) and Steve Nyman (fifth, 1:16.43).

Highlighting the second five were Ligety, seventh at 1:16.79, and Colby College graduate Warner Nickerson in 10th at 1:17.15.

Falling far short of the podium was no surprise to the upstart Ligety. Slalom, not speed, is his meal ticket.

“As my career progresses, I plan to work on getting faster and stronger. I don’t see myself winning downhills or Super-G’s for a while,” Ligety said.

His pesky joints and recent shutout at the Winter Games notwithstanding, Miller reminded everyone who is the premier all-event and all-terrain skier in the American camp. Making the home course even friendlier for Miller were a thin snow pack, the product of a milder-than-average winter, and the absence of the inevitable jumps that characterize most Olympic and World Cup layouts.

“The snow here is the best I’ve skied in a long time,” Miller said. “I’m sure it stinks for everybody else because it’s so thin, but it’s great for racing. You don’t get the same air. That’s fine with me. I hate jumps right now, my knees hurt so bad.”

Rahlves, 32, felt the bid for his seventh career U.S. gold go sour near that welcoming ambiance at the top of the hill.

“And then you couldn’t make up speed anywhere,” Rahlves said. “One little mistake really adds up.”

Sam Sweetser of Cumberland, a CVA graduate hoping to crack next year’s U.S. Ski Team, bolstered his chances by finishing 13th, less than two seconds off Miller’s winning pace. Gould Academy student Bump Heldman of Auburn ran 41st out of 71 skiers in his first crack at the U.S. championship.

Miller made his splash on the national scene when Sugarloaf hosted the U.S. showcase in 1996 and 1997.

While the locals made it clear they haven’t forgotten or abandoned him, Miller confirmed that his feelings for them and the area are mutual.

“Those years from 14 to 18 are definitely the most important ones for developing as an athlete,” said the New Hampshire native. “This was definitely the spot for me. I think Sugarloaf is probably the best mountain in the East for developing yourself as a racer.”



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