Sun, Dec 19, 2004 - Page 22 News List

`Wunderteam' regains control

WORLD CUP SUPER-G Michael Walchhofer led the first Austrian podium sweep this season, but Bode Miller of the US still holds a commanding lead in the overall standings


Michael Walchhofer and the Austrian "Wunderteam" restored skiing to its normal pecking order Friday.

For one day, at least.

American Bode Miller still held a commanding lead in the overall World Cup standings after Walchhofer won his first World Cup super-G race and led the first Austrian podium sweep this season -- and 68th overall.

With Miller fourth, it wasn't quite the 1-9 sweep of Innsbruck six seasons ago, but the Austrians were content.

"The whole Austrian team is very strong, so this is nothing special," said third-place finisher Benjamin Raich. "We're almost back to normal."

With overall wins in the past five seasons, things won't get completely back to normal unless Miller is hauled in by the three Austrians following him in the standings.

The same three finished 1-2-3 on Friday.

Walchhofer covered the 2.4km long Saslong course in 1 minute, 31.17 seconds. Defending overall champion Hermann Maier was second, 0.12 seconds behind, and Raich finished 0.47 seconds back.

Miller was 0.86 seconds off Walchhofer's pace on a relatively warm day in the Dolomite mountain range.

The race was the first speed event this season in which Maier finished ahead of Miller, shaving 30 points off Miller's overall lead. Miller has 780 points to Maier's 419.

Walchhofer came second in the downhill here in each of the past three seasons. This was the third World Cup win of his career following a combined victory in Kitzbuehel in 2002-2003, and a downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, last season.

"I've always wanted to win here," said Walchhofer, who injured his left knee in downhill training on Wednesday and sat out Thursday's practice. "I didn't think I would be able to come back and win today."

Miller, who was coming off back-to-back wins on Sunday and Monday, was satisfied with fourth.

"Today was really tough because in super-G there is no training run, which makes it tough to know what to do and how hard to push," Miller said. "Especially this hill, it's got so much terrain, it makes it tough."

One of the more astute judges of rival skiers, Miller has been touting Walchhofer all season as one of his chief challengers for the overall title.

``He's skiing really well, really solid. He's a four-event threat,'' Miller said of the Austrian, who moved into third place overall with 384 points.

Raich is fourth overall.

At 1.92m, 95kg, the massive Walchhofer is built perfectly for the high-speed gliding that the relatively straight Saslong course demands.

Miller, who is slightly smaller, was in the lead after his run. By the time he had taken his boots off, however, Raich, the next skier down, had beaten him.

Walchhofer then posted the fastest time, and Maier, the last of the super-G specialists to hit the course, bumped Miller off the podium.

Maier said finishing ahead of Miller was not his foremost goal.

"It's important to win," said Maier, who was yet to post a victory this season. "Three second places are good, but I want to win races."

Friday's race marked the first time skiers were subjected to blood tests under new doping procedures installed this season. The top four finishers were tested.

Two-time defending champion Antoine Deneriaz of France, who finished 15th on Friday and is built similarly to Walchhofer, is favored to win the more traditional downhill scheduled for the Saslong on Saturday.

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