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World Cup ski season opens in Finland

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Which Bode Miller will show up this season?

The outspoken Miller will be hoping to rebound from a less-than-stellar season to compete with defending overall champion Benjamin Raich.

The World Cup season opens this weekend with slalom races in Levi, Finland. The season was originally scheduled to begin two weeks ago in Soelden, Austria, but the races were canceled because of rain and warm weather. They will not be rescheduled.

Miller will head into the season hoping to improve from last year. The American went to the Turin Olympics hoping to medal in all five events, but left Italy with none.

``Everyone who knows Bode from 2004-05, can see he was different in 05-06,'' Miller's agent Lowell Taub said. ``I think the Bode of 06-07 is a content, focused athlete who's going out there and competing because he loves it.''

Raich, the Olympic slalom champion, won last year's overall title by more than 400 points. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was second, followed by 2005 champion Miller.

This season, Raich will be focusing more on the downhill.

``I have three year's experience in the downhill at this point and I want to use that,'' the Austrian said. ``I'm still targeting the overall title but I have a lot of goals this year.''

In February, Miller will go into the world championships in Are, Sweden, as the defending downhill and super-G world champion.

Miller leads a strong United States team with Olympic combined champion Ted Ligety and giant slalom gold medalist Julia Mancuso.

``This is one of our strongest teams in terms of talent and depth,'' U.S. alpine director Jesse Hunt said.

Daron Rahlves, the United States' all-time best downhiller, retired after finishing fourth in the overall standings last season. He also was the 2001 super-G world champion and a double medalist at the 2005 worlds.

``Having 'D' move on presents a challenge, but I'm confident we have the talent to help fill that gap,'' Hunt said. ``One of our goals this season is to get closer to Austria in the Nations Cup.''

The United States finished second in the Nations Cup the last two seasons.

On the women's side, Anja Paerson will have to find some new competition on the Alpine World Cup circuit.

The two-time overall champion from Sweden, who finished second last season behind Janica Kostelic, is favored this season because the Croat is taking a year off and Michaela Dorfmeister has retired.

Paerson expects tough competition even without Kostelic, the most successful female Alpine skier in Olympic history.

``Last season was one of the most even, when no skier won a lot of races,'' said Paerson, who beat Kostelic by three points in 2005. ``This season I think there will be even better quality.''

Kostelic announced last month that she will skip this season because of chronic back and knee pain.

``We will miss her because she will always mean a lot for the World Cup,'' said Paerson, who skied with pain in her left knee last season. ``The sport will miss a big name.''

Paerson had surgery on her knee after the World Cup finals and returned to skiing in July after four months of rehab.

``My knee feels good, really good,'' the Swede said. ``But I'm not sure about my form. It's hard to tell because I haven't had the time I needed, but all training camps were great.''

Dorfmeister, who was third overall last season and won the downhill and super-G titles, leaves behind a powerful Austrian team that includes Nicole Hosp, Kathrin Zettel and Marlies Schild.
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