Bode Miller Wins Bronze

SportsAlpine SkiingBode MillerFIFA World CupAndrew Weibrecht

Bode Miller seemed oddlysilent riding the lift to the mountaintop alongside U.S. teammateMarco Sullivan for Monday's Olympic downhill.

"I don't think we said a word to each other," Sullivan said.

Later, hanging out in the athletes' lounge as race timeapproached, other skiers were surprised by Miller's mood, too.

"It was fascinating," said Liechtenstein's Marco Buechel, whois at his sixth Winter Games and has known Miller for years. "Hesaid he was nervous. I'm like, 'What?! Nervous? You? I never sawyou like that."'

One never knows what to expect from the ever-enigmatic Miller,on the slopes or off. As a favorite four years ago in Turin, heflopped. As something of an afterthought this time around, heflourished. With a controlled run down a choppy slope Monday,Miller won the downhill bronze behind Switzerland's Didier Defagoand Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal at the Vancouver Games for hisU.S.-record third career Olympic Alpine medal.

At the last Winter Games, Miller said Monday, "I wasn'temotionally very involved in the races. I was treating them verycold and clinical." Now, in contrast, "I let myself go more."

Maybe it's because he considered retiring six months ago. Maybeit's because he's the father of a toddler. Maybe it's because thereis less attention, fewer sponsor commitments, not as much"minutiae," as Miller called it.

Asked what's changed most about him since 2006, Miller replied:"It doesn't feel like anything. I'm pretty steady, actually. I'vebeen about the same since as long as I can remember."

Had the 32-year-old from Franconia, N.H., won, he would havebeen the oldest Olympic men's downhill champion. Instead, thathonor went to Defago, also 32 but, unlike Miller, never before amedalist at an Olympics or world championships.

By zipping down the course in 1 minute, 54.31 seconds, Defagoclaimed his country's first Olympic gold medal in men's Alpineskiing since 1988. Pumping his arms in the air after completing therun, Defago nearly tumbled backward over the padding that lines thefinish area.

"I've always believed in myself," Defago said.

Not everyone did. The guy even had to earn a spot on the Swissdownhill roster at Whistler with a good training run last week.

The opening Alpine race of these Olympics originally wasscheduled for Saturday, but was delayed because of snow, rain andtoo-warm temperatures that made for a messy mountain. Cold, dryweather overnight allowed the slope to freeze.

"The conditions were perfect for me," Defago said. "I knew Iwould do well, but I never expected to do this well."

Don't call this an upset, though.

"I knew Didier was on fire," said his Swiss teammate, DidierCuche, who already owns an Olympic silver from 1998 and wasexpected to fare better Monday than his sixth-place finish beforebreaking his thumb last month. "He makes no more of those bigmistakes he used to."

Any sort of glitch would have made a difference on this day:With reigning overall World Cup champion Svindal only 0.07 secondsbehind Defago, and Miller 0.09 back, it was the tiniest marginbetween first and third place in Olympic men's downhill history.

Several skiers thought the earliest racers were at adisadvantage, because the sun didn't really peek through the cloudsuntil about 15 spots into the start list, making it easier to seethe ruts and bumps created by a week of far-from-ideal weather.Miller went eighth, 10 spots before Defago.

"It's kind of too bad," said Miller's teammate, AndrewWeibrecht of Lake Placid, N.Y., who was fourth out of the gate andfinished 21st. "If he had better light, he could have made up that9-hundredths."

Swaying side to side while someone with the U.S. Ski Teamscreamed to pump him up at the outset, Miller started solidly,tucking through the upper gliding sections. He was nearly a fullsecond faster than the early leader at the second checkpoint.

But Miller gave back nearly a half-second on the bottom portionof the course and wasn't perfect on the final jump. In the finisharea, Miller tapped his fists on his green helmet; he later said hefigured his run - which put him in the early lead - wouldn't begood enough for gold or silver.

Then again, Miller long has maintained he cares far more aboutproducing laudable skiing runs than earning medals or otheraccolades. Which maybe was a good thing, given that he failed todeliver a top-3 finish at the last three big international events.

He sure did look pleased during a photo op in the finish areaMonday, smiling while climbing up from his place on the third stepto Defago's higher perch and throwing an arm around the winner.

And, yes, Miller said, it's true: He had a case of the jitters.No matter that this is all so very been-there, done-that forsomeone who burst onto the scene with two silvers at the 2002 SaltLake City Olympics.

"That was the feeling I've been searching for, and I let itbuild up. I was real nervous before I went, but excited-nervous,not anxiety-nervous," Miller said. "Normally as an athlete, aveteran of 400 World Cup races, you kind of repress that stuff. ...I used to crash all the time because of it. But I think that's partof why I wanted to come back."

It's why he decided to rejoin the U.S. Ski Team after trainingand competing independently for the past two years. It's why hedecided to return to the Olympics after his disastrous,distraction-filled trip to Turin, where he generated far more buzzwith his late-night partying than with his skiing prowess.

"Sometimes his focus wanders," said Sullivan, who crashedMonday but was OK, "and, obviously, today he was very focused."

After the postrace flower ceremony, after the doping test, afterthe news conference and other interviews, Miller headed down themountain. Another race comes Tuesday, the super-combined, and heonce again is a part of any conversation about contenders.

"He is ski racing because he wants to ski race," said Miller'sagent, Lowell Taub, "and I think you see that in theperformance."

As they strode away, Taub threw an arm around Miller's shouldersand shook vigorously, a celebratory half-hug.

Miller refused to call it redemption. The record book foreverwill call it a bronze.

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