ZURICH — The best guesses about Alpine ski great Bode Miller racing again on the circuit range from “no guarantee” to “no question.”
Miller turns 39 on Oct. 12, yet, after two full seasons away from the World Cup, the gifted American seems poised for a comeback — if he can resolve legal issues with his former ski supplier.
“No question. He will be back,” International Ski Federation president Gian Franco Kasper told The Associated Press on the sidelines of preseason meetings on Friday.
Miller’s return to the snow might coincide with that of another former Olympic gold medallist , multiple world champion and two-time overall World Cup winner. Aksel Lund Svindal suffered a serious knee injury on the most dangerous men’s downhill course in January.
Svindal has recently cautioned against expecting too much of him, but the 33-year-old Norwegian has had his best seasons coming back from his worst injuries.
“They are superstars,” said Patrick Riml, Alpine director of the United States ski federation, of Miller and Svindal. “They’re critical for the sport, for the fans, for the interest.”
The sport could certainly use more of the compelling drama like the last time they raced on the same hill, in February 2015 at the world championships at Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Miller and Svindal were must-see attractions in a super-G medal race on their season debuts after back surgery and an Achilles injury, respectively. Miller was on a fast run when he wiped out in a spectacular crash, and Svindal finished just 0.13 seconds out of the medals.
Both have recently been training on snow in Chile, while Miller’s lawyers have pursued a court battle in California with ski maker Head. Miller wants out of a contract that prevents him racing now on Bomber skis, a new brand he helped develop.
“There is no guarantee that he will come back,” U.S. team leader Riml told The AP. “If he wants to come back, he will get 100 per cent support from the team.”
Miller has been a throwback in sticking to a grueling schedule of skiing all events, though could now focus on the speed races of downhill and super-G.
“I would say he would start with the speed races and that is the smart thing,” said Riml, who can still see Miller indulging his love of slalom. “That is why he is so great, he is passionate about everything.”
Svindal dominated in downhill last season, and led the overall standings when he blew out his right knee in Austria’s classic race at Kitzbuehel.
Writing on his blog two weeks ago, Svindal said he was “very far away from race speed, but a whole lot better than not being here at all.”
“We’re trying to get him in as good shape as possible, not as fast as possible,” Norway’s Alpine director, Claus Ryste, told The AP. “We’re positive, optimistic, but a bit careful.”
Ryste always wants to see Miller vs. Svindal revived. “All sports need high profiles, and they are huge profiles.”
A cautious target for Svindal’s return is the Nov. 26-27 races at Lake Louise, Canada, then at Beaver Creek the following weekend.
The traditional early season swing through North America, for men and women, is part of the biggest season of World Cup racing in the U.S. for decades.
Aspen’s hosting of the World Cup Finals in March has let the women’s traditional Thanksgiving weekend races in Colorado move to Killington, Vermont.
The 1960 Olympics venue of Squaw Valley, California, returns for the first time since 1969, bridging the travel gap to Aspen as a stopover after test event races at the 2018 Olympic slope in South Korea.
“We have always wanted to have more races in the States, particularly on the east coast,” world ski president Kasper said. “And the Vail-Beaver Creek world championships brought us a lot of new fans.”
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press
Photo: REUTERS/Ruben Sprich