Bode headed in 'right direction'

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- The course announcer encouraged the fans to cheer their man on, but that was hardly necessary. The crowd already was eager for some drama from Bode Miller, the most famous name in American skiing.

In his first race in this country since returning to the U.S. team, Miller finished seventh in the downhill portion of the Birds of Prey super-combined Friday and had a good run going in the afternoon slalom until he took a header near the bottom of the course and did not finish. Miller got up on his own, but did not speak to the media after the slalom.

U.S. ski coach Sasha Rearick said Miller took a pretty hard crash, but he didn't think he was hurt.

"Bode is still working on his skiing," Rearick said. "He doesn't have a whole lot of volume, so he's still getting it. He skied some tactical turns really well. In general, he's making steps each day and he gave a good effort today and I was proud of him. It's still going to take some time."

Miller, 31, dropped off the U.S. ski team two years ago to compete independently and considered retirement after a disappointing 2008-09 World Cup season in which he failed to win a race and also cut the season short. He decided to return to the U.S. team in late September and is still catching up on his training.

Still, he was good enough for the seventh-fastest time in Friday's downhill portion even though he wasn't satisfied with his performance.

"I felt pretty out of sorts all the way down," he said after the downhill. "I made some mistakes that I wouldn't normally make and that cost me quite a bit. Aside from that, I skied good. I felt pretty good. I was aggressive, which is good, but on this course, you have to ski clean if you want to win."

Miller's split time in the slalom had him in the overall lead until he appeared to catch a ski tip and crashed in the same area that took down a number of skiers. Among those was 2006 Olympic combined gold medalist Ted Ligety, who had a superb run going until straddling a gate.

"That's what makes it more annoying -- to be fast and then go out," Ligety said. "I'm glad I'm skiing fast, but it's just annoying not to finish."

Andrew Weibrecht, who is not a slalom specialist, finished 19th overall after taking fifth in the downhill. Weibrecht said he's only had four slalom training sessions this year. "I'm really happy with my downhill run and definitely will take that into [Saturday's] downhill and try to throw one down."

Switzerland's Carlo Janka and Didier Defago finished 1-2 in the super-combined with Croatia's Natko Zrncic-Dim taking third.

The downhill of Friday's super-combined was held in bitter cold conditions, with a start at four below Fahrenheit. Many of the skiers taped their faces to protect themselves.

"It's just hard on your lungs more than anything," Miller said. "It burns your lungs a little bit. A lot of guys will be coughing this afternoon, coughing up blood from that. It's a little tough to go from that to slalom. ... Some guys recover, some guys don't."

Miller finished 29th in the downhill and 39th in the super-G last weekend at Lake Louise in Canada.

"I would love [my condition] to be better, but that's always the case," Miller said. "Even when I'm fully strong here and fully prepared, I always want to be stronger. There's just a lot of fatigue that goes on, especially the way I ski, really aggressive, and I'm so far on the back of the skis. These skis are specially designed for that. These are the skis I won on at Wengen a couple years back and they're unbelievably fast if you ski that way, but I was just kind of out of it today and couldn't find the right position. My strength definitely affected that. If I was a little stronger, I could have done that better."

"In the training runs, he's been super fast, so he's almost there," Ligety said. "I don't think he has that consistently fast touch going on yet, but he's definitely going in the right direction."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.