Franconia’s Bode Miller celebrated his 32nd World Cup victory and his first this season at Wengen as he captured the legendary ‘Lauberhorn’ combined event after a strong downhill leg and a smart slalom run which allowed him to beat Switzerland’s favorites Silvan Zurbriggen and last year’s winner Carlo Janka.
Miller, the U.S. record holder in wins in the alpine ski world cup, clinched his sixth combined event on the tour to become the first American to win a World Cup combined at Wengen. He is also the first US athlete to win the famous ‘Lauberhorn’ combined since Buddy Werner in 1958.
Despite a couple of errors in the downhill leg, Miller was the fastest man in the morning, a result that has him looking forward to the speed run tomorrow. It was his equipment, however, that had him completely amped after the race.
"It was a great day, a breakthrough day in my equipment," he explained. "Today was the first day I had a downhill set up I really felt I could win on."
In fact Miller even used the same boots for both the downhill and the slalom something he said he had never done before. "My first turns on the boots and skis were in the race themselves,” he told reporters. “No warm-up or anything. I feel I have the set up now in all four disciplines where I can be a threat to win and be on the podium and it's been a long time since I felt that way."
"I was just a little nervous to rip right out of the gate and try to put down turns, especially with Janka skiing well, and I didn't have a ton of time to play with," Miller also said.
"That's always a little bit tough for someone with 400 World Cup races, you know that's not the best way to go out there and try to win, but I have to do it. I just started so late this year that I had no time to test and no time to run new equipment, so I was really happy, under those circumstances especially, to go out there and finish two solid runs."
Miller said his execution was lacking, that he was fortunate to have won the downhill leg after taking a tour of the soft snow in the turn of the ‘Canadian Corner”. And while he blistered the middle of the slalom course, he added, "I skied with the emergency brake on most of the way," something that is tricky since the slalom ski set-up is a difficult one to tame down. "If I back off it doesn't work very well," he said. "It kind of bounces."
It’s Bode’s first podium finish since he came in 2nd here a year ago in the competition won by Switzerland’s Didier Defago and his first triumph since his success in downhill at Kvitjfell in March 2008.
Last season he had a couple of podium finishes but ended his season in February 2009 after disappointing World Championships at Val d’Isère. He only decided last fall to get back on the circuit which he did in November after only a few weeks of snow training.
Yet he slowly moved up in the rankings in recent weeks, producing two strong slalom runs last weekend at Adelboden. He seems now ready for more in the coming major events including this weekend at Wengen and then at Kitzbühel, Schladming, Kranjska Gora and the Olympics in Canada.
"That was the idea. When I came back we started looking at my program and where I was going to peak and ski strong,” Miller also commented. “It was a kind of natural peak of things."
Now, he indicates, it's a matter of being able to put down "extreme winning runs, where you beat everybody whether they ski their best or not. ... With the set-ups I have now I feel like anybody can ski their best and I can go down and beat them if I ski well."
A two-time winner in the downhill here, the HEAD champion is definitely the skier to beat now in the first downhill race of the New Year. His smooth skiing and his confidence should help him to achieve another great performance on the ‘Classical’ Lauberhorn downhill course used since the early 1930s by the best speed skiers of the world.