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Super combined starts early, should suit Miller

Bode Miller of the U.S. starts his downhill run of the men's alpine skiing super combined training session at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Bode Miller of the U.S. starts his downhill run of the men's alpine skiing super combined training session at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

By Martyn Herman

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Reigning men's super combined champion Bode Miller got his wish on Thursday when the start time for Friday's race was brought forward an hour because of expected warm weather conditions.

The American feared a soft downhill course would seriously undermine his chances of successfully defending the title he won in Vancouver four years ago, as it did in Sunday's downhill.

Olympic organizers have moved the start time forward from 11am local time (0700 GMT) to 10am to take advantage of any early-morning frost on the Rosa Khutor piste which has already taken a pounding from training runs and races.

The slalom leg of the race, when the medals will be decided, will start at 3.30pm.

Race referee Gunter Hujara said the decision had been made on safety grounds.

"It's not easy in an Olympic schedule to move forward a start," he said at the team captains' meeting where the draw for Friday's race was made.

"We went through all the channels and we really appreciate the answer from all the people involved. In the end, it's a safety issue."

Spring-like temperatures, that reached nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the valley on Thursday, mean the snow on the slopes is having to be stabilized using ice.

"Once the sun reaches a certain angle on the hill, five minutes can mean the slope goes from skiable to unskiable," Hujara said. "I'm glad they listened to our arguments."

SOFT PISTE

Miller completed his final training run for the combined early on Thursday, before the decision to change the start time had been made, and said he feared a soft downhill piste would play into the hands of slalom specialists.

"I think an earlier start tomorrow would potentially help," the 36-year-old American told reporters.

"It would make it a little bit fairer conditions.

"The biggest thing is the (start) intervals. Today in training at least we ran short intervals but with full race intervals it would be the luck of the draw.

"You could be 45 minutes after the first guys and in these conditions this course changes a lot in an hour. If the slalom guys ran early they would have a huge advantage."

Miller might not be so happy with his starting position, however, after being drawn down at No. 24.

He complained after finishing eighth in the downhill that the course conditions had changed drastically from last week's training runs which took place in much colder weather.

If he is to stand a chance on Friday, he will need to build a lead in the downhill and try to hang on in the technical leg where the likes of fellow American and world champion Ted Ligety and Ivica Kostelic are strong.

"A slalom is 50 seconds plus and the slalom guys can put a huge amount of time on the downhillers," Miller said.

"Right now the downhill is so easy, so basic, there's nothing challenging about it so there is no way to put any time on the slalom guys and everyone is within a second or so."

Mike Kenney, part of the U.S. coaching team, said he was satisfied with the decision to change the start time but believes the slalom course should be shortened.

"If they run a full Olympic length slalom they should also run a full Olympic length downhill," he told Reuters.

"It's biased towards the technical skiers."

The downhill course for the combined will be a shortened 3.2km in length, compared to 3.5km for the men's downhill.

The slalom layout is being set by Ante Kostelic, father of Croatian hopeful Ivica, but that was not a problem for 2006 Olympic combined champion Ligety.

"Ante always sets difficult courses. It is what it is. I don't know if Ante normally sets for Ivica or not - he just normally sets on his own kind of whim," he said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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