LET'S BE CLEAR: U.S. skier Bode Miller, 28, is a borderline savant on skis. He is the reigning World Cup overall champion and is uniquely talented across all the events. "He's a genius, maybe the greatest pure Alpine skier in history," says 1972 Olympic downhill gold medalist Bernhard Russi of Switzerland. But Miller will not win five gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Turin. And he won't be seduced by the hype suggesting he might.
Miller will likely ski in all five Alpine disciplines in Italy, prompting comparisons with Eric Heiden (five speed-skating golds in 1980) and Michael Phelps (six swimming golds in 2004), each of whom could argue for a place on the U.S. Olympic Mount Rushmore, but neither of whom competes in a sport with as many variables as Miller's.
Consider: Since the Olympic Alpine program was expanded to five events (downhill, Super G, giant slalom, slalom and combined) in 1988, only two skiers have won even three medals--Austria's Stephan Eberharter (a gold, silver and bronze in 2002) and Norway's Kjetil André Aamodt (bronze and two silvers in 1994).
Alpine racing is an unpredictable endeavor, subject to wild changes in weather and snow. In early December, Miller skied off the course in a World Cup Super G race because his goggles iced up in high winds and blowing snow. Skiers racing in multiple disciplines face specialists in every event, and downhill and slalom demand extremely different skills. Miller will have to hold off countryman Daron Rahlves and Austria's Michael Walchhofer in the speed events and Italy's Giorgio Rocca and Rainer Schoenfelder of Austria in the slalom.
SKATING THROUGH The U.S. and Canadian women's hockey teams will face little resistance until they meet in the gold medal game.
OPENING ACT Italian ski champion Alberto Tomba will carry the flame into the renovated Stadio Olympico at the opening ceremonies.
NO SPILLS FOR SPILLANE World-champion Johnny Spillane will break through to win the first U.S. Olympic medal in Nordic combined.