Miller, Weibrecht medal behind Svindal in super-G

Leave it to Bode Miller to bring a little trash talk to Alpine

skiing.

After his silver and Andrew Weibrecht’s bronze behind winner

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway in Friday’s super-G, Miller was asked

to explain why the Americans have been dominating the slopes with

six medals through four races at these Olympics.

Miller smiled that here-comes-a-good-one smile of his and began,

“Aside from the fact that we’re just much better than everybody

else …”

Can’t really argue with the guy.

With six events still to go, the United States already has

collected its most Alpine medals at a single Winter Games, topping

the five at Sarajevo in 1984. Norway is the only other country with

more than one medal so far, thanks entirely to Svindal, who also

got a silver in the downhill.

Indeed, that first medal eased his mind before Friday’s race.

Standing in the start gate, with Miller and Weibrecht holding the

day’s top two times to that point, Svindal thought to himself,

“You already have a silver and it can only get better, so enjoy

this and give it all you have. Don’t hold anything back.”

He finished in 1 minute, 30.34 seconds, 0.28 faster than Miller

of Franconia, N.H., who gave away time at the bottom of the course

and acknowledged he “ran out of gas a little bit.” Weibrecht of

Lake Placid, N.Y., never before fared better than 10th in a

significant race but wound up only 0.03 of a second slower than

Miller.

“If you don’t watch ski racing every weekend, you might miss my

name,” Weibrecht deadpanned. “It definitely feels good to

establish myself.”

While two-time reigning World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn was

pegged to collect a bushel of medals at Whistler, no other U.S.

skiers distinguished themselves enough in the leadup to generate

much buzz.

So much for that.

Vonn won a gold in downhill, Miller earned a bronze plus his

silver to become the first U.S. Alpine skier with four career

Olympic medals, Julia Mancuso won two silvers, and the undersized

and unheralded Weibrecht finally climbed on a podium. And if that’s

not enough, Miller and Weibrecht were the first American men since

twins Phil and Steve Mahre in 1984 to win medals in the same Alpine

event – that after Vonn and Mancuso doubled up in the women’s

downhill.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting this,” said Marco

Sullivan, who was 23rd Friday. “It was ‘The Lindsey Vonn Show’

coming in, and now it’s turned into ‘The U.S. Ski Team Show’ – and

it’s really cool.”

So back to the question Miller was posed: Why?

There’s no clear answer.

Could be as simple as early success breeding more success.

“It’s definitely inspiring having Julia and Lindsey and Bode

all doing really well to start the Olympics,” said Weibrecht, who

at 5-foot-6 barely comes up to Svindal’s shoulders.

Could be the Americans’ newfangled polyester-knit body suits –

the ones with no real texture or seams to reduce wind drag. Then

again, the Canadians were outfitted with the same special duds, and

no one from the host country has produced better than Erik Guay’s

pair of fifth-place finishes.

Or maybe it could be an extension of the long tradition of

American skiers peaking at the right time, a history that includes

such surprise gold medalists as Bill Johnson in 1984, Tommy Moe in

1994, and Ted Ligety and Mancuso herself in 2006.

“We’re at the Olympic Games. This is the big show,” U.S. Ski

and Snowboard Association CEO Bill Marolt said. “Our kids love to

compete in the big show.”

That certainly wasn’t the case for Miller four years ago, when

he headed to Turin as the center of attention. Owner of two silver

medals from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, he was supposed to add

to that.

Instead, Miller failed to finish or was disqualified from three

of five races. He drew more headlines for his late-night partying

than his skiing, and no one could be sure what to expect from the

32-year-old this time around.

He skipped the final four stops of the 2008-09 World Cup season

and contemplated retirement, hanging out at the beach in California

and spending time with his 1-year-old daughter. The time away from

the sport he’s loved for decades – he didn’t even have any skis or

boots, he said – helped him get a fresh feel. It also didn’t hurt

that he now has fewer demands on his time from sponsors and the

media.

Most of all, Miller said, he is skiing well now because he is

“inspired” – by teammates, by competitors, by his own drive to

turn in a “pure” run.

“I’ve been a really strong big-event skier since I was little.

All the big events, I’ve always done well in – when I decide that’s

what I want to do,” he said with a chuckle. “The notable

exception was that stretch between Torino and now. I’ve always said

that I’m not that interested in results, and I think that showed in

that stretch.”

Ever his own man, Miller opted to use longer and heavier

downhill skis in the super-G to allow himself to be more aggressive

in the icy turns on the upper part of the course, even though he

knew the exertion spent making it through there would sap his

energy by the bottom. His calculation, essentially, was that he

would fast enough early to make up for what happened late. That’s

exactly what happened.

“He doesn’t train all summer, he comes back and wins two

medals. Only Bode can do it,” said Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel,

competing at his sixth Olympics. “If I wouldn’t train all summer

and come back, I would crash every second gate. His way of skiing

is unique. His talent is immense.”

A day earlier, Miller got the wind knocked out of him when he

landed on his back while doing slalom training runs to prepare for

Sunday’s super-combined. He laughed as he talked about that,

because, well, Miller insists that he’s all about having fun on the

slopes.

Medals don’t matter, he’s always maintained. Still, let’s give

Miller the last word in assessing the record-breaking U.S.

performance at these Olympics.

After his wisecrack about how much better his team is than any

other country’s, he did become more earnest, discussing the

“connection” that’s been established among his “tight group” of

teammates.

“That’s what you’re seeing. Once that momentum starts, everyone

starts to want that more. They race really aggressively,” he

explained, “but with their heart, too.”