Snowbasin, Utah - It was the equivalent of scoring six touchdowns in the
fourth quarter and coming up a point short. That's what happened in the men's
combined, when American Bode Miller tried to pull an Elway and almost succeeded.
A long day that began with a reckless Miller ended with a rampaging Miller.
He transformed a stumbling performance into a flawless one and managed to make
the leaders sweat. On his final blistering run, Miller soared past the gates
but not quite to the gold medal stand.
The silver was hardly a disappointment for Miller, considering he trailed
after the first of three runs by 2.44 seconds, which is two hours and 44
minutes to a downhill skier. Somehow, Miller ignored the odds and came within
two-tenths of a second from winner Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway.
"You never know what's going to happen with Bode," said Jean-Phillipe Roy
of Canada. "That's just the way he is. He can either crash or win. Today, he
pretty much did both."
True to his reputation, Miller nearly fell off his skis and out of the
event. The combined consists of one downhill run followed by two slalom runs,
and Miller has a history of wiping out in the downhill. He was his usual
aggressive self when the downhill began, risking a tumble in order to finish
with a quick time. Since the slalom portion of the race is what Bode does best,
he figured a quick downhill run would almost automatically mean gold.
From the age of 18, when he placed second in a slalom race despite falling
three times, Miller has been an adventure on skis. He simply doesn't use
brakes. His motto: win or wipe out. Sometimes, it's wipe out and nearly win. He
keeps his skis straight, making him a threat to everyone and also himself. He
underwent four surgeries last year and also tore his left ACL in the worlds at
St. Anton, Austria. Other falls resulted in the usual bumps and bruises. The
threat of serious injury follows him everywhere. No matter; Miller refuses to
fly a cautionary flag.
"I try to win," he said. "I don't worry about much else." This has made him
arguably the fastest skier in the world, with four gold and three silver
finishes in this season's World Cup. With Miller, there's no secret to his
method: it's all about staying upright.
In one sense, then, yesterday was a victory. Midway through his downhill
run, Miller buckled as he sliced around a turn. His legs wobbled and his body
wavered, but Miller didn't somersault as expected.
Instead, he brought himself to his feet and completed the run. Still, when
he crossed the finish line, he stood in 15th place and even worse was
considerably behind a pair of formidable Norwegians. Lasse Kjus is the '98 gold
medallist and Aamodt now has a record six Olympic Alpine medals.
"One of the things I knew coming into today was that if I made it down the
downhill, no matter how slow I was, I'd have a chance at the medal," Miller
said. "That's because I have the speed and the form to make up a lot of time."
His brash thinking proved correct. In his first slalom run, Miller finished in
a dead heat with Aamodt. In the second run, Miller shaved 2.16 seconds off
Aamodt's lead and nearly capped a stunning comeback, causing the pro-American
crowd to cheer madly.
"If you give a guy like that a chance, he's going to win the gold," Miller
said. "I gave him that chance. But it was a great race anyway. If it wasn't for
a stumble, this could've gone either way."
Miller remains a strong favorite to leave Salt Lake with more than one
medal. The slalom and giant slalom lie ahead, and given how Miller breezed
through the slalom portion of the combined, he could become the most successful
skier at the Games.
"He's a phenom," said Marolt, a former ski racer himself and a member of
the 1964 Olympic team. "He's one of those special kids that comes along. He's
just willing to go right at it, all the time. He's willing to put it all on the
Miller's second slalom was one of the best slaloms ever tracked on snow.
"That's as good as you're going to see," Marolt said. "He didn't make a mistake.
"I'm not going to put anything beyond me," Miller said. "I just want to
stay on my skis." In his case, standing on his skis could mean standing on the
gold medal stand.
Bode's Run to Silver
Bode Miller nearly fell and was 15th after the downhill portion of the
combined. His skis gave him trouble in the first slalom run, yet he managed to
move up to fifth in the standings. In the second slalom run, Miller tore up the
course and finished the run 1.16 seconds ahead of everyone else to capture the
Medalist Downhill Slalom 1 Slalom 2 Total
Kjetil Andre Aamodt, NOR 1:38.79 46.88 51.89 3:17.56
Gold Downhill rank: 1st. Slalom rank: 4th.
Bode Miller, USA 1:41.23 46.88 49.73 3:17.84
Silver Downhill rank: 15th. Slalom rank: 1st.
Benjamin Raich, AUS 1:41.05 46.30 50.91 3:18.26
Bronze Downhill Rank: 13th. Slalom rank: 3rd.