After winning yesterday's opening training run on Sochi's Rosa Khutor Olympic downhill course, Bode Miller finished Friday's session with the sixth fastest time, 0.64 seconds behind Austria's Matthias Mayer.
Does that mean the American is slowing down?
Not exactly. While the five-time Olympic medalist did miss the mark in Friday's second of three training runs, it wasn't for lack of trying. Or, more specifically, experimentation.
Having already set the fastest time in Thursday's opening assault with a clean but relatively (for Miller, at least) conservative run, the 36-year old vet now appears to be using his remaining recons to discover a new, faster line down the circuitous, two-mile track.
On Friday, Miller's unconventional approach caused him to make an impressive save just before launching off the 80-meter Bear's Brow Jump. But it cost him precious time.
“I wanted to try coming in with more speed and [a] higher [line] today,” Miller told reporters at the finish. “And it just failed, so it’s good that I can eliminate that as an option."
"Line" is a term you'll hear bandied about by skiers over the next few days. Essentially, they're referring to the tightest route through the gates that allows them to carry the most speed while making the least amount of adjustments or errors. Ski too round a line, and risk covering excess distance; ski too tight a line, and risk skiing off course or crashing.
Because of its speed, terrain and danger, downhill is the sole Alpine event where racers are permitted to take practice runs down the course. And for medal favorites, these sessions present the perfect opportunity to discover the elusive line that's key to winning.
It's a tactic that's hardly new. At the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, home favorite Franz Klammer made the downhill famous with his ragged, physics-defying run. But in reality, it was the Austrian's calculated line—he came in high and early on a critical turn, allowing him to carry enough speed on the lower portion of the course to sneak past Switzerland's Bernhard Russi for the win—that netted him gold.
Watch for Miller to continue experimenting and fine tuning his line in Saturday's final training run as he attempts to become the first American male skier to win the Olympic downhill since 1994 gold medalist Tommy Moe.