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Sweet Redemption: Bode's Golden Moment

Sweet Redemption: Bode's Golden Moment

[ Sun, 2010-02-21 17:44 ]
Gold for Bode
After finishing seven tenths of a second behind leader Aksel Lund Svindal in the downhill portion of the super combined, Miller skis a fast, flawless slalom to win his first Olympic gold medal.

Bronze, silver and now gold: Bode Miller is three for three in these games, earning his first Olympic gold in today's super combined event at Whistler's Creekside venue. With two events to go before the Games close, Miller shows no sign of stopping.

Miller's was just one of three stellar performances by the U.S. men's alpine team. Ted Ligety, who won the combined event in Torino in 2006, was 15th after today's downhill portion, and he turned in the fastest slalom run of the day (50.76). He remained in gold medal position until he was edged out by Croatia's Ivica Kostelic. Perhaps even more exciting was the performance of American Will Brandenburgh. In his first Olympic combined event, Brandenburgh finished the downhill portion in 33rd. Then, he turned in the second-fastest slalom time of the day. Brandenburgh sat in medal contention until Norway's Kjetil Jansrud skied. In the end, Brandenburgh finished 10th. 

But the day belonged to Miller. After finishing seventh in the downhill portion, Miller overcame his .76-second deficit with a straight and near flawless attack of the slalom course. Three Swiss skiers—Silvan Zurbriggen, Didier Defago and Carlo Janka—finished the downhill portion ahead of Miller, and skied after him in the slalom. None was able to unseat him. Zurbriggen, who skied immediately after Miller, turned in a bronze medal time and bumped Ligety from the medal standings.

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who won bronze in the men's downhill event and was fastest time in today's downhill portion, skied last among in the flip-30 of the slalom portion, but after catching an edge and skiing out near the finish, he lost his chance at a medal of any color. Graciously, he skied to the finish line to congratulate Miller, Kostelic and Zurbriggen, the day's medal winners. 

Much was made of Bode's potential heading into the 2006 Olympics—after winning two medals in Salt Lake four years earlier—and even more was made of his failure to bring back even a single medal from Torino. According to Bode, the expectations, not the skiing, were the problem. "In Torino, I didn't really want to go to the games," he said. "I didn't feel like it fit in with where I wanted to be. I didn't want to be the poster boy for medal counts and all that stuff. I wanted to race because I love racing, and I knew it was a chance for me to find the inspirational side of skiing I love so much, but any races I would have won would have been used as propaganda for exactly what everyone had been building up for months, which is something I disagree with. It was a really conflicted time."

This time, there are no conflicts. Not between Bode and the U.S. Ski Team; not between Bode and the media; not between Bode and Bode. From the start of these games, we've seen a new maturity and a new calmness from America's most successful alpine ski racer. But in general we've also seen and heard less about him leading up to the Olympics. The expectations have largely been heaped upon Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety, the only man to medal in 2006. Anyone familiar with Miller's skiing knew he had potential to do great things here, but perhaps no one was betting on this much success.

Still, though he seems genuinely proud of his accomplishments so far, Miller continues to insist that the number of medals an athlete earns isn't as important as how versatile he is. That makes his current situation so much more compelling. If Bode wins a medal in the slalom event, scheduled for Saturday, he'll become the first Olympic athlete to medal in five events. "For me, the measure of a ski racer has always been how versatile they are, how close to five events can you become proficient at," he said. "To do it in one Olympics, it requires a lot of luck, and a lot of things have to go your way. But I'm in a good position to do it."