- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Bode Miller’s career in the Olympics has twisted and turned through five Winter Games, 15 races so far and five medals won - including one gold.

The men’s downhill on Sunday might just witness the 36-year-old American hitting his Olympic peak.

Recent form and rival racers’ predictions suggest Miller and his rival Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway are the men to beat.


Here are five things to watch for in the first final of the Sochi Games in Alpine skiing, the men’s downhill:

MILLER’S TIME: Miller is impressing all who watch him at the Sochi Olympics. He’s fast and technically excellent on his skis, funny and engaging off them.

Even his rivals for a medal can’t help but share their admiration.

“Epic,” was how Kjetil Jansrud, Svindal’s Norwegian teammate, described Miller’s performance in Saturday’s final training run.

Carlo Janka of Switzerland was a distant third-fastest and planned to study film of Miller’s racing line.

“Bode is top class at the first part,” said Janka, the defending Olympic champion in giant slalom. “But to copy is difficult.”

American teammate Marco Sullivan praised Miller’s instinctive racing style as “effortless.”

“The turns he is making, there is so much pressure coming up from the ski, and the way he’s absorbing it and making it happen,” said Sullivan, pausing to find words, “it is just the way it should be, to me.”

DEFAGO‘S DEFENSE: Since men’s downhill became a stand-alone event at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics, no racer has won it twice.

“I know,” said defending champion Didier Defago of Switzerland after placing 10th in training. “Challenge is always good but we have to focus on the race and we can speak about that after.”

Defago agrees Svindal and Miller - who both stood with him on the podium in Vancouver - are “very, very strong.”

Miller can take the record as oldest downhill champion from Defago, who was 32 years, 4 months when winning on Whistler Mountain. Ten days younger than Defago, Miller is now almost 36 years, 4 months.

SPEED CHECK: The winner Sunday likely needs to average 100 kph (62.14 mph) down the 3.5-kilometer (2.17-mile) course.

Miller mastered the track Saturday, timing 2 minutes, 6.09 seconds at an average 99.79 kph (62 mph), though he wasn’t the fastest through the two speed checks.

Johan Clarey of France went through the first at 116.40 kph (72.3 mph) and Canada’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis hit 137.07 kph (85.2 mph) further down the icy hill.

Miller was seventh and eighth, respectively, on the speed gun but carried the most speed through the technical turns.

SHOCK WINNERS: Don’t be surprised if gold goes to an unheralded winner.

Austrian downhill great Franz Klammer was famously expected to win at home in the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics, but it seldom works out for pre-race favorites. A rut in the snow, a stray cloud or a misjudged turn can throw plans awry.

In 1980, Klammer’s 21-year-old teammate Leonhard Stock swept to a first career victory. Stock’s next downhill win came nine years later in the World Cup.

Jean-Luc Cretier of France made his only career downhill win count at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

TOUGH COURSE, FAIR RACE: It shapes to be a fair test for the 50-man lineup.

Sunshine that lit the course through three training runs is forecast to continue beyond the 11 a.m. (0700 GMT) start.

Some clouds and breezes are expected, though probably too little to change conditions on the challenging course.

Miller and Svindal drew bib numbers 15 and 18, so the favorites are scheduled to start about 10 minutes apart. The icy middle sections might be a little bumpy when No. 27 Defago comes down.

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