U.S. skier Bode Miller masters men's Olympic downhill training course
United States' Bode Miller starts in a men's downhill training run for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, February 6, 2014 6:25AM EST
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Bode Miller mastered the Olympic course on his very first run Thursday, leading the opening downhill training session.
A bronze medallist in the event four years ago, the 36-year-old Miller clocked 2 minutes, 7.75 seconds down the Rosa Khutor piste, where he injured his left knee two years ago during the Sochi test event.
"Unfortunately they don't give you medals for training runs," said Miller, who also led the only training run on the famed Streif course in Kitzbuehel, Austria, last month, but then made a big error in the race, finishing third. "If they did, I would be psyched today. But it certainly doesn't hurt to come out here and ski well first run. I just have to keep trimming time."
Patrick Kueng of Switzerland, who won the classic downhill in Wengen on home snow last month, was second, a slim 0.03 seconds behind. Matthias Mayer of Austria was third, 0.17 behind.
Marco Sullivan of the United States was fourth, although he was one of several skiers who missed gates on their way down. Christof Innerhofer of Italy was fifth, 0.69 behind, and should be a contender on a course that suits him.
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, two other big favourites, were seventh and eighth, respectively.
Calgary's Jan Hudec (2:10.15) was 24th, Benjamin Thomsen (2:11.32) of Invermere, B.C., finished 38th, Manuel Osborne-Paradis, also from Invermere, was 42nd in 2:13.24. Morgan Pridy of Whistler, B.C., did not start.
Svindal took too straight of a line in several sections and had to slow down to make a few gates.
"It was a bad run actually, to be honest," Svindal said. "I mean 1.2 behind I would definitely like to be faster. But I have some big things I need to change. So I'm not too worried."
Two more training sessions are scheduled before Sunday's race opens the Alpine events.
Miller cut his 2011-12 season short after his injury in Sochi then had microfracture surgery and took all of last season off to let his knee properly heel. Showing off a slimmed down physique this season, Miller quickly regained his form and finished second in a World Cup giant slalom in December. Then he had two podium results in Kitzbuehel last month.
But last weekend he banged up his right knee during a crash in a giant slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
"It's still puffed up a little bit and a little bit sore," Miller said. "There's nothing wrong with it, just got banged hard."
Consequently, Miller was a bit tentative on the Sochi course's biggest jump, labeled the Russian Trampoline, which comes midway down.
"It's really bumpy and rattley," he said of the icy landing area. "That's one of the places where I went way out in the soft snow."
Overall, though, Miller was pleased to see that the course hadn't been altered much since the 2012 test event, in which several other skiers were also injured.
"They didn't dumb it down much, which is nice," said Miller, who finished fourth in the test downhill. "They didn't ice the top, which is understandable -- the turns are huge up there. The swing and turns would make it very tough for guys on top if it were icy. It would be better for me but that's fine. I still feel like I have the ability to ski that top and put time on guys.
"But once you come out of the chute all the way down they didn't take anything away. The speeds are up, the terrain is challenging and the jumps are big," added Miller, who showed off the U.S. team's new white racing suits. "There's a lot of different places where you can make mistakes and where it's really challenging -- especially linking sections together."
The training session was held in perfect conditions, under a bright sun and clear skies. The snow was grippy on top, icier in the middle section and softer at the bottom where the temperature was above freezing.
"It's interesting," Svindal said. "We have perfect winter snow. Then you have ice that looks like it's breaking up a little bit, so it's bumpy ice in the middle section and I think that combination to me looks like maybe the most challenging part of this downhill right now."
Svindal said the course suits Miller.
"So I'm not surprised but I also think I can catch up a lot of that time. Because I made some mistakes," said the Norwegian, who took silver behind Dider Defago of Switzerland in the downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
All 61 racers who started reached the finish.