KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Bode Miller has made little secret that Sochi will likely be his last Olympic Games. And after his first day on the mountain for downhill training Thursday, it appears it could be one heck of a finish.
Miller's time of 2:07.75 on the challenging 2.17-mile course was the fastest in the field of 63 racers, solidifying his status as one of the favorites for Sunday's downhill race. Even more impressive was the fact that he turned in the best time of the day with a balky right knee that he injured after a crash in the giant slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Sunday.
"My right knee felt crappy," he said after his run on Thursday.
Miller underwent an MRI and there is no damage to his knee, but he has dealt with significant swelling since the crash. After Thursday's run he admitted his knee was still "puffed up a little bit," forcing him to be extra cautious during a particular bumpy section of the course about 45 seconds into his run.
"After that Russian trampoline jump where you come down to that hole it's really bumpy and rattly and that's all right foot," he said. "I was kind of tentative there. That was one of the places I went way out in the soft snow."
Not that his time showed it. Miller, Switzerland's Patrick Keung and Matthias Mayer of Austria were the only racers to break 2:08. After the run, Miller raved about the Rosa Khutor downhill course, the longest in Olympic history. He said it was the most challenging course he has raced all year and insinuated that it was perfectly set up for someone of his well-rounded skill set.
"It separates the field more," Miller said. "The course is long enough and has enough dynamic sections that rather than eliminate guys from medals it means they will have to struggle through certain sections and then really execute on the part where they're good to see if they can pull time back. There's a few guys who don't have that many weak sections. Luckily I'm one of them."
Miller's best Olympic finish in the downhill came in Vancouver, where he won bronze. He has three top five finishes in six downhills on the World Cup tour this year.
He is one of just three skiers in the downhill field born in the 1970s (he was born in '77). And no Olympian older than 34 has ever won Alpine gold. You might think his experience as the all-time leader in World Cup starts would be an advantage. But on Thursday he suggested that isn't necessarily the case.
"Having that emotional arousal control can be a hindrance at times," Miller said. "When it's the Olympics and you want to go way past your limits in certain circumstances, it can be a hindrance to be in your fifth Olympics with 400-something World Cups behind you.
"I can't say I'm not excited. I'm really excited. Hopefully Opening Ceremonies will stir my emotions also. But I've kind of been here. I've done this. Not to take anything away from the Olympics, it's just not the same after you've done it as many times as I have."
Women's course issues
Training for the women's downhill was paused for an hour on Thursday after the first three racers complained about the height of the final jump.
American Laurenne Ross was the first racer down the course Thursday, chiding afterwards, "You're welcome. I'll be your test dummy." During the break, race organizers shaved the lip of the jump in an effort to limit the height each racer flew.
Race organizers offered the three women who ran the original course a second run. Only Ross took them up on it. A few hours after her second run, at a news conference for the U.S. women's speed team, her emotions cooled.
"It's just something that happens," she said.
She might not want to say that to Italy's Daniela Merighetti, who started third and crashed on the final jump. Merighetti told reporters afterward she may have injured both knees. She was scheduled to get an MRI later Thursday to determine the extent of her injuries.
It isn't unusual for new courses to be amended during training runs. Forerunners who run before the racers are designed to find errors in the course. The problem is those skiers typically can't duplicate the speeds of the world's best -- especially on a fast course like that at Rhosa Kutor.
"They are coming in 20 kph slower than we do and then they think, 'Oh the jump is too small. Let's put a new jump on it,'" said Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather, who had the fastest time of the day. Then we come and fly 45 meters. It's always my suggestion to the FIS to have two very good forerunners."
Steve Nyman showed up at Tuesday's news conference without his trademark shoulder-length hair. In its place was a military-like buzz cut. When asked what prompted the change, Nyman quipped, "I wasn't living up to my expectations this year. So I had to punish myself."
Nyman has finished in just one of six World Cup downhills this year.
• With Lindsey Vonn unable to compete due to a knee injury, it would seem that the field for the women's speed races are wide open. When asked Thursday what it would take to win a gold medal, American Stacy Cook looked directly to her right, where three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso was seated.
"The way Julia shows up at Olympics, it's going to take beating her," Cook said. "Lucky underwear for sure."
In 2010 Mancuso started Kiss My Tiara underwear, a nod to the explanation she usually gives when asked about her Olympic success: lucky underwear.