Sochi Olympics: Changing conditions throw Bode Miller off-course

After great training runs in ideal conditions, Bode Miller finishes eighth in Olympic downhill. Soft snow, poor visibility are factors.

SOCHI, Russia — If only, for apple pie and America's sake, the Olympic downhill had been raced Thursday or Saturday instead of Sunday.

If only clouds had not appeared over Rosa Khutor and created the flat light that so disturbed Bode Miller.

If only the temperature had not risen above freezing to create the humidity that softened conditions in the ice-hard middle section that Miller had crushed during training.

If only the start of Sunday's race had not been delayed 15 minutes because of a "gondola" problem that left fans stranded at the bottom of the hill.

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Did you ever think a 15-minute hold might rob Miller, and Team USA, of the most prestigious medal in Alpine skiing?

Little did we know until Sunday how much a ski course is like a petri dish and how easily a race course's ecosystem can be compromised.

You could easily argue Miller would have won an Olympic downhill raced on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, but he definitely did not win it on Sunday.

The course and conditions that suited him so perfectly for three days turned on him with a vengeance and handed the gold medal to young Austrian Matthias Mayer.

"The training runs were bluebird, perfect visibility and hard snow," Miller said. "That's the perfect conditions to see who's the best racer, unfortunately."

You would expect this winning result from Austria if not for the fact it was the 23-year-old Mayer's first career win and the country's first downhill gold since Fritz Strobl's in 2002.

Mayer restored some order to the kings of Alpine by sliding out of the No. 11 starting slot and seizing the lead with a time of 2 minutes 6.23 seconds. Four years ago, Austria's men were winless.

Mayer's time held up through the rest of a challenging lineup that included Miller (bib No. 15), Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal (18) and the defending Olympic champion, Switzerland's Didier Defago (27).

Mayer almost got clipped by Italy's Christof Innerhofer, in the 20th starting spot.

Innerhofer got to within six hundredths of a second of Mayer's time but cheerfully settled for silver in 2:06.29, Italy's first downhill medal since Herbert Plank won bronze in 1976.

One Norwegian, Kjetil Jansrud, beat another, Svindal, for the bronze.

Miller finished in eighth place, a full half-second behind Mayer's winning time.

Miller's performance was even eclipsed by U.S. teammate Travis Ganong, who skied stunningly well to finish fifth. .

Ganong, racing seventh, took the lead with a time of 2:06.64 and was clinging to bronze until Svindal knocked him out 11 racers later.

Ganong, 25, was as thrilled as Miller, 36, was mystified.

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