With his win in Saturday's third and final training running, America's Bode Miller proved he's the man to beat in Alpine Skiing's marquee event — Sunday's Olympic Downhill.
Sure, his rivals might still have been holding something back
in the hopes of not revealing their cards too early, but so was Miller. Rather than squat low in his tuck—a taxing, low-profile position that's akin to doing squats while resisting serious g-forces—and risk fatiguing his legs, the five-time Olympian stood tall during the Rosa Khutor's gliding sections to save strength.
"I just wasn’t working quite so much with aerodynamics; I was just standing a little taller and resting," Miller told a scrum of reporters under brilliant blue skies at the finish. "It felt good on my legs, I wasn’t as tired."
It was a smart play. At over two miles in length, the Rosa Khutor course is the second longest downhill track in the world, relentlessly throwing skiers back and forth across the hill in a series of long, swooping, bumpy turns. And at 36, Miller—who sat out last season to nurse a knee injury—is one of the oldest skiers competing, meaning he'll have to save every ounce of strength for his gold medal assault on Sunday.
Elsewhere during his third training run, however, Miller wasn't holding anything back. After putting his superior technical abilities to good use by skiing the tightest and most aggressive line through the course's serpentine upper section, the five-time Olympic medalist continued to build speed, effortlessly absorbing bumps and carving difficult, off camber turns the rest of the way down.
“It was fun,” Miller said. “It’s one of those courses where I don’t think you’re safer by going easy. The key to this course is based on your athleticism and your ability to get on the front of your skis."
Despite his advanced age, Miller entered this season in arguably his best ever shape, returning to competition a full 20 pounds lighter. He thinks his renewed fitness will payoff in dividends at these demanding Olympics, where he's competing in all five Alpine events.
But beyond his strength and tactics, there appears to be something almost magical about Miller's current level of skiing. After a shaky start to the season, one punctuated by moments of brilliance but largely categorized by a failure to live up to his proven potential, Miller seems to have rediscovered his mojo, looking looser and smoother with each run he's taken down the Rosa Khutor course.
Even Miller's rivals are taking note.
"He's skiing really well," acknowledged Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, the only competitor to finish within a second of Miller during Saturday's training. "That's his biggest advantage right now. Especially the top part, it's impressive."
Is a coveted downhill gold medal all but inevitable for Miller? Of course anything can happen on race day (particularly in the Olympic downhill, which has a history of upsets), but with his impressive performance in training this week, Miller is now squarely the favorite.
Just ask chief rival Svindal: "Is he the favorite? I think so. He's been the best skier on this mountain, so right now he looks like the favorite."