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Daredevil American skier is finally besting the Alpine set

By Christa CaseCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 10, 2005

If you hope to win at the alpine skiing world championships taking place in Bormio, Italy, here's a risky recipe you might want to avoid:

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First race: Nearly crash and ski off course. Manage to recover. Win gold.

Second race: Lose a ski at the top of the first run going 70 m.p.h. Continue down nearly the whole course on one ski. Win applause from crowd, disapproval from coach. No medal.

Third race: Beat the competition by 0.44 seconds to become the first American ever to capture world championship gold in alpine skiing's signature event, the downhill.

Then again, you're not Bode Miller, the cowboy of skiing who is poised to become the first American to lasso the overall World Cup title in 22 years. Of course, it's anybody's guess whether Mr. Miller will actually capture the crown. During the last two seasons, he was also leading, but faded to finish second in 2003 and fourth in 2004.

But what may matter more than wins to his legion of fans is Miller's maverick style. Though Miller enjoys little name recognition in the United States, Europeans - especially Austrians - are wild about him. "The guy stops to put gas in his car and a crowd forms," says Jack McEnany, neighbor and co-author of a forthcoming book "Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun." But maybe even Austrians have tired of watching their countrymen ski flawless runs and sweep the medals podium. Enter Miller: Tearing downhill at 80 m.p.h. with arms flailing, he's as likely to ski off course as he is to win. Either way, there's bound to be some excitement.

Going where few dare

Though his results are unpredictable, Miller's method is not: Take risks your competition doesn't dare take, and then try to hold on by the skin of your chattering teeth.

While others have criticized his approach, the Easton, N.H., native has stuck to it with unflagging self-confidence - some would say arrogance - and an irreverent worship of fun. What looked like repeated and sometimes intentional failure was arguably part of a larger effort to discover how to create and carry more speed than any of his competitors - something he seems to enjoy more than winning itself.

Attacking each course with calculated stinginess, he trims fat off the serpentine arcs carved by other racers - most of whom are at a loss to emulate what took Miller a lifetime of reckless careening to master, says his prep school coach, Chip Cochrane.

While Miller's peers were conscientiously performing technique drills, he was tearing down double-black diamond runs in search of vision-blurring velocity.

It was then that Miller perfected the art of near-crashing, learning to recover from positions that would have sent his competition into the trees. He also developed a unique sensitivity that enables him to react instinctively to changes in the terrain. "It's almost like he has little brains in his feet," says Mr. Cochrane, who coached Miller for three of his four years at Maine's Carrabassett Valley Academy (CVA).