Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympics: Bode Miller & Lindsey Vonn

WHISTLER, British Columbia - In the final Alpine skiing event, the men's slalom, the US team's only two medal threats - Bode Miller and Ted Ligety - failed to finish. Miller and Ligety both skied off course early in the first of two runs, held in rain and snow and fog. Miller said it was the flip side of the risk-taking that won him three medals earlier in the Games.

"You have to be able to live with that possible result if you want to take that risk," Miller said.

Another medal would have made Miller the first man to win four Alpine medals at the same Olympics. But already fulfilling career-long expectations and erasing past Olympic disappointment, Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H., won gold in the men’s super-combined ski race at Whistler Creekside.

Miller, the most successful skier in US history, claimed the Olympic title with a blazing-fast slalom run in the two-part event, which combines a downhill run in the morning and a slalom run in the afternoon.

Miller, whose career has been marked by unconventionality, controversy, and conflict with the US Ski team, initially looked shocked at winning his first Olympic gold. Now he owns a complete set of medals from the Vancouver Games, with silver from the men’s super-G and bronze from the men’s downhill.

"When I passed the line, I did my normal thing and stood for a second and I was like, 'That was unbelievable, I can’t ask for anything more,'" said Miller. "For my first Olympic gold, it was absolutely perfect."

With the three, Miller has equaled the record for the most medals by a male Alpine skier at a single Olympics, joining skiing legends Jean-Claude Killy of France, Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway, and Toni Sailer of Austria.

Miller, 32, made his Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Games. He earned a pair of silver medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, then failed to win anything at the 2006 Turin Games, where his late-night partying made more headlines than his skiing. The Vancouver Games have remade his image and elevated his legacy.

"I’ve never really had too many confidence issues in my skiing," said Miller. "But to execute on a day like today, I’ll be proud of this for the rest of my life. I could have skied better today, but I skied with 100 percent heart."

The US won eight Alpine medals here, surpassing the mark of five set at the 1984 Sarajevo Games. Julia Mancuso (silver in downhill and super combined) and Andrew Weibrecht (bronze in super-G) helped push the US to new levels of success.

Lindsey Vonn came through with a gold medal in the downhill and a bronze in the super-G, reaching the podium in the two events she finished. And she earned her medals and pushed through a tough five-event schedule despite a bruised shin, broken pinkie, fallout from Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit photographs, and conflict with teammate Julia Mancuso providing ample distractions.

Miller has never placed much of an emphasis on winning medals. He prefers not to measure his accomplishments in Olympic hardware or the other trophies collected over his 13-year career, which includes two overall World Cup titles, four World Championships, and a US-record 32 World Cup victories. He believes in skiing aggressively at all times, regardless of the stakes and consequences. His style on the slopes straddles the line between recklessness and genius. Yesterday, it was genius.

But over the years, it has exacted a toll on Miller’s body, leading many to wonder whether he will retire for good after these Olympics with gold in hand.

"I feel pretty old," said Miller. "I don’t know what my plan is. Having quit once, I came back for a reason, and this was the reason. I feel good, and when I race like I have here, it’s so much fun to do. I’d feel pretty stupid to give up if I could continue."

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