SOCHI, Russia — Bode Miller hasn’t won a World Cup downhill race in more than two years. He skipped last season in the wake of knee surgery and he has made only one podium in his specialty this season. Yet his rivals have tapped the five-time Olympian as the man to beat in Sunday’s signature Alpine event after the 36-year-old Miller won two of the three training runs, including the finale, at Krasnaya Polyana.
“I think I will have to beat Bode Miller,” reckoned Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, the reigning world titlist and current Cup leader in the discipline, after the New Hampshire native dusted the field on the icy Rosa Khutor course that produced a nasty fall by Slovenia’s Rok Perko and 10 DNFs and spooked 19 others into not starting at all.
“I just said bring it,” said Miller, who outraced Svindal by nearly seven-10ths of a second but still thought he can do better. “It’s a pleasure for me to ski on this track. I would be angry with myself if I had wasted this opportunity to properly run on this track.”
Though Miller has won a world downhill title, he has yet to claim the event at the Olympics, where he collected one of each color in Vancouver — a gold in the super combined, a silver in the super-G, and a bronze in the downhill. If he makes the podium here, Miller will become the first American to manage it in three Games. “The other skiers think they are skiing well but they’re half a second behind,” observed teammate Steve Nyman. “When you see guys in the zone it’s impressive and that evidently is where he is now.”
Perko, the first man down the hill, broke his nose when he fell, leaving blood streaming down his face and onto the snow. Brice Roger of France broke a bone and tore ligaments in his knee in a fall. And American Marco Sullivan barley escaped serious injury after he clicked his skis together.
‘‘[Sullivan] almost killed himself. I mean, if that crash doesn’t go just the way it went, he goes flying through B-nets, going 75 [m.p.h.], straight into the trees,’’ Miller told the Associated Press. ‘‘That angle that he was going at right there is the worst spill zone in the entire course. It’s just one of those things. And if you’re not totally focused and paying attention, this course can kill you.’’
Sullivan said, ‘‘I just let my mind lapse for a second, and all of a sudden [my] skis hit together.’’