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TORINO: Alpine: Bode Miller wins final Olympic downhill training run, more or less

TORINO: Alpine: Bode Miller wins final Olympic downhill training run, more or lessSESTRIERE, Italy – Bode Miller more or less won the third and final training run for the men’s Olympic downhill Saturday.

Miller, the reigning downhill world champion, was the fastest man to through the first 1 minute, 31.87 seconds of the course, then deliberately dumped speed to secure a better start position in the Sunday race.

Ski Racing has learned that Miller trained Saturday on a special pair of Atomic skis, a pair never before seen in the World Cup downhill racing world. See the story here.

Hermann Maier was the second-fastest to that final interval, but was nearly half a second behind the man who took the overall World Cup title away from him last March at Lenzerheide.

The final interval is about 18 seconds from the finish of the 1.49.89-second course. Almost all of the most technical and gliding sections are over. Times at that point are the best available indication of who will perform how on Sunday.

Minutes after the race was over, U.S. alpine director Jesse Hunt and his staff submitted the names of the four American starters to the race office: Daron Rahlves, Miller, Steve Nyman and Scott Macartney will race Sunday.

Rahlves also dumped speed before the finish. He was fifth at the final interval, but 10th in the complete run. The Californian was snagged in a a bizarre security-gate snafu Thursday.

Miller will start 18th Sunday, Rahlves 20th, Macartney 23rd and Nyman 27th. Maier starts 18th. Australia’s Craig Branch will start first, and Slovakia’s Ivan Heimschild will wear the 55th and last bib.

“My mission is to ski as fast as I can,” said Rahlves. ”Wherever that places me, that’s where I sit. But I think if I ski as well as I’m capable of skiing on this kind of hill, it will be a good day.”

The top 30 finishers in training Saturday will start Sunday start in reverse order. Those who finish outside that group run later, on snow that is more chopped up and rutted.

Antoine Deneriaz of France, who failed to slow down, finished the course with the quickest time — 1:49.89. He will start 30th.

”Not what I wanted, but what can you do?” Deneriaz said. ”At least I know I’m fast.”

Defending Olympic champion Fritz Strobl finished 31st, a spot which would normally leave him out of lead group. However, because there were skiers who used Saturday’s run for practice only and won’t be racing Sunday, Strobl moved up and will start fourth.

Nyman, who marched in the Opening Ceremony last night after qualifying for the U.S. team in Thursday’s training run, finished fourth, and was selected for a doping control.

Macartney was 18th at the final interval and jumped to eighth in the complete run, showing that he didn’t have the option of jockeying for an earlier start position because he was in a race-off with Marco Sullivan that U.S. coaches first devised 2 1/2 weeks ago.

Sullivan went down swinging on Saturday. He was one of the fastest skiers on the bottom of the course (and the fastest through the lower speed trap, where he was clocked at 72 miles per hour). Well inside the top 10 within the last three intervals, he showed that he knew he had nothing to lose at that point, and that charismatic serviceman Brian Burnett knows what he’s doing here. But Sullivan could not overcome a mistake he made at the top.

This week Burnett has been seen on the race course using a magnifying glass to examine the shape of snow crystals in the track, to better choose which planks his racers (now just one racer) will use in Sunday’s race.

Sullivan was philosophical in the finish. “It’s good for them to have to fight me for a spot,” he said of Macartney and Nyman. “It makes them faster. It’s good team building.”

Sullivan related how Rahlves helped him with video analysis the night before the race. On the 14th, Sullivan will travel to Saalbach, Austria, for Europa Cup races there.

Maier looked strong Saturday, even though he spent a few minutes leaning on his poles in exhaustion in the finish. At a press gathering Friday night, he said he is still suffering from lingering effects of the flu.

”There is still room for improvement,” said Maier, who is recovering from the flu. ”I am hoping to be better for tomorrow.”

Maier, the most successful ski racer currently competing, has won 53 World Cup races, as well as four overall World Cup titles (1998, 2000, 2001 and 2004). Nearly dismembered in a motorcycle accident in August 2001, he suffered from impaired sensation and occasional stiffness in his lower right leg.

On Friday he complained about the tactics of a doping control officer.

He has never won an Olympic downhill gold medal.

Skiracing.com’s coverage of the previous eight downhills can be found here:

Lake Louise, Alberta (Nov. 27);
Beaver Creek, Colorado (Dec. 2);
Val d’Isere, France (Dec. 10);
Val Gardena, Italy (Dec. 16);
Bormio, Italy (Dec. 29)
Wengen, Switzerland (Jan. 14)
Kitzbuehel, Austria (Jan. 21)
Garmisch, Germany (Jan. 28).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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