Reuters - Tue, 26 Jan 07:54:00 2010
The words 'safe' and 'Bode Miller' are not usually found in the same sentence but the world's most controversial ski racer believes they should be.
Having been reconciled with the United States team after his acrimonious split in 2007, the 32-year-old Miller, who many believed was about to quit at the end of last season, appears ready for a surprise assault on an Olympic gold medal in a bid to fill the only gap in his impressive trophy cabinet.
Miller, who once infuriated US officials by admitting that he had skied while "wasted", showed his credentials 11 days ago in Wengen when he won the super-combined to claim his 32nd World Cup win and his first for nearly two years.
Since then, he has threatened to add to his tally without quite delivering.
The day after his win, he was on the point of taking the lead in the downhill when he crashed in sight of the finish.
A week later, he was among the best in training for the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel and, in the race itself on Saturday, led at the top of the course before losing time lower down and finishing ninth.
"The goal this season was to be strong for Wengen and Kitzbuehel, then peak at the Olympics," Miller told the US ski team's website before Kitzbuehel.
"I feel like I have a setup now in all four events where I can be a threat to win and be on the podium. It's been a long time since I really felt like that."
Miller, who has won four world championship gold medals and two World Cup overall titles, has built up a reputation for a win-or-crash approach which has earned him a legion of fans around the world.
After his win in Wengen, however, he was keen to emphasise his prudent side.
"I always feel I'm a pretty smart skier," he said. "I make mistakes but there are reasons I have started 400 World Cup races and never had a serious injury.
"It's not a coincidence that I've had the longest sequence of World Cup races in the world."
Well known for letting his hair down, Miller shrugged off criticism of his failure to win a medal in five attempts in Turin four years ago by saying he had got to party Olympic style, which embarrassed the International Olympic Committee and drew the wrath of US officials.
In an interview with American television programme 60 Minutes, Miller shocked officials when he admitted to skiing "wasted", then courted more controversy when he said he was in favour of liberalising anti-doping rules.
Miller further strained his relationship with the US ski team when he insisted on travelling the World Cup circuit in his own motor home which became known as the "Bode-mobile".
His wilder excesses may now have been curbed after he recently became a father.
Miller, who managed two silver medals in Salt Lake City in 2002, has competed in the World Cup every season since 1997-98 despite his run-ins with the US team, the International Ski Federation and the IOC.
He split from the US ski team after the 2007 season to race independently, financing his own Team America, in a move that proved a huge success as he won six World Cup races in 2008 and his second overall title.
Last season, however, Miller struggled with injuries and failed to win a World Cup race for the first time since 2002. He did not compete in the final month of the season, triggering talk that he was considering retirement.
Instead, he made up with the US team in September and, despite continuing problems from an ankle injury suffered in a team volleyball match in Val d'Isere which caused him to miss Sunday's slalom in Kitzbuehel, has become a contender for next month's Olympics.
"This is a great time of year to be moving forward," Miller said. "Normally at this time of year, I'm moving backwards."