Miller Takes Third in Swiss Downhill

Saturday, January 15th 2005, 12:44 pm

By: News On 6

WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) _ Michael Walchhofer led Austria to a 1-2 finish in a World Cup downhill Saturday while overall leader Bode Miller was third on the famed Lauberhorn, the longest course on the circuit.

Walchhofer covered the demanding 2.8-mile run in 2 minutes, 27.05 seconds _ 0.09 ahead of Christoph Gruber. It was the first downhill victory of the season for Walchhofer, the reigning world champion in the discipline.

``I have patience,'' said Walchhofer, who had top-three finishes in six of seven downhills this season. ``But I knew I was in great shape and it was only a question of time before I won a downhill.

Miller was 0.18 behind the winner and managed to take third despite skipping the morning inspection run, preventing an Austrian sweep of the top four spots. The result allowed him to pad his lead in the overall standings after failing to score points in Friday's super-combination.

The American stretched his overall lead to 258 points. Second-place Benjamin Raich of Austria gained 100 points on him after winning Friday's super-combined race but didn't start Saturday. Miller has 1,048 points after 21 of 38 events, followed by Raich at 790 and Walchhofer at 641.

Walchhofer tops the downhill standings with 431 points. Miller is second at 378, with Austria's Johann Grugger third at 321.

Defending overall champion Hermann Maier was encouraged after finishing fourth in the downhill in 2:27.67. His equipment struggles this season have hurt him in the speed disciplines. Another Austrian, Werner Franz, was fifth in 2:27.77.

The Lauberhorn is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Though the world's oldest ski races are in Arlberg-Kandahar, Austria, the Lauberhorn weekend is the longest-running Alpine ski event organized at the same resort.

The wildly varying course pushes racers to speeds of up to 94 mph, then forces them in a corner to slam the brakes and slow to 44 mph. Skiers arrive at the final ``S'' turn just before the finish _ a spectacularly difficult set of sharp curves _ having skied intensely for about 2 1/2 minutes.

``People talk about how you have no oxygen in your legs at the finish,'' Miller said. ``Forget that. You have no oxygen in your brain.''

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