BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) – Bode Miller had company all around him Friday, and not just on the podium.

Miller narrowly avoided a high-speed collision with a course worker to capture his first World Cup downhill victory in two years, ignoring the scare along with increasingly heavy snowfall to charge down the Birds of Prey course in 1 minute, 46.15 seconds.

Swiss downhill veteran Didier Cuche was runner-up, 0.15 seconds behind, while another American, Steve Nyman, was third, 0.33 back.

Americans have won the Birds of Prey downhill – considered one of the top-three toughest on the World Cup circuit – the last three years. And each time, they’ve put two racers on the podium. Miller and Daron Rahlves, the country’s most decorated speed event skier, traded 1-2 finishes here in 2004 and ’05.

Despite Rahlves’ retirement, four Americans finished in the top 10 Friday as Scott Macartney took eighth and Marco Sullivan 10th.

“There is a void, we miss Daron, he brought so much to the team, more than I even realized until he was actually gone … his professionalism and his attitude and his intensity,” U.S. men’s head coach Phil McNichol said. “But we have great skiers. And we’ve been saying that for a while and the guys have been slowly stepping forward.

“It’s really nice to see Bode on the top of the steps again, we’ve been saying that Steven is coming, we’ve been saying that’s Scotty’s coming, we’ve been saying that Sully’s on his way back, and they are.”

Miller’s last World Cup victory was at the finals in Are, Sweden, in March, when he won a super-G.

Beaver Creek is the only U.S. stop on the World Cup circuit, so “obviously, everybody’s pushing the limits here,” Miller said. “You’re more likely to take an extra risk when you’re in front of your home fans, your home crowd.”

It’s not just Adrenalin, however, he cautioned.

“Nyman especially … he has the ability to win on just about any course we go to. He has huge speed. It’s not going to be surprising if he continually puts himself on the podium,” Miller said. “But this hill is predictably challenging for a lot of the guys who are true downhillers who aren’t used to these super-steep, super-aggressive technical turns. Our team is full of guys who came from the slalom-GS side, we have a lot of technical background. I think that helps.”

Miller, known for his steady nerves, had a close call when a man in a green jacket lost his footing on the icy surface and streaked across his path just two gates below the brazen skier. Miller, going into a right-footed turn, neither flinched nor slowed and even picked up speed.

“It’s a little bit of a distraction, but being a ski racer, you’re used to those kinds of things and you get past them pretty quick,” said Miller, who estimated he was going 65 mph. “Once I realized I wasn’t going to hit him, he was the last thing on my mind.”

The color of the man’s coat, which Miller remembers as orange instead of green, suggests it was not an official but rather a coach or a photographer. Ski officials wear blue.

“By the time I got into that turn, I realized he was going to be out of the way,” Miller said. “At that point I would have had good cause for a re-run had I wanted one, but I hadn’t made any big mistakes up above and I didn’t feel like going all the way back up there again.”

The same thing happened to Hermann Maier, though the course worker didn’t cross quite so close. Still, Maier said the distraction did affect him slightly and the Austrian star finished 23rd, 1.98 off the pace.

Such close calls are rare in ski racing, but are extremely dangerous. In 2001, France’s Regine Cavagnoud died from head injuries after slamming into German coach Markus Anwander during a training session on Austria’s Pitztal glacier.

Miller had been having a slow start to the season. But the 29-year-old showed he was back on form in Thursday’s super-combi, posting the fastest time in the downhill leg before going off course in the slalom run after he had accidentally left his foot beds in his GS boots when he hurriedly switched to his speed boots.

In Nyman, the Americans found the racer to replace Rahlves and give them another dual threat with Miller. This was his first podium in the World Cup.

“I nailed the pitch, that’s all I needed to do because I can carry my speed on the flats,” Nyman said. “And I have an amazing technician who’s been making some magic sticks.”

Nyman called it his coming out party.

“One of my goals is just to be a consistent threat on the World Cup. I want to get in peoples’ minds,” he said. “I want to get in the start gate and have people know, ‘This kid can knock me off the podium.’

“I feel like I accomplished that today.”

AP-ES-12-01-06 1716EST

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