American Bode Miller finally fulfilled his expectations and won an Olympic gold medal Sunday, using a blistering slalom run for victory in the super-combined.
After placing seventh in the downhill run, Miller skied the third-fastest slalom legs for a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 44.92 seconds Sunday. "I skied with 100 percent heart — I didn’t hold anything back," Miller said.
"It’s just awesome. There’s nothing else to say. The way I executed, the way I skied, is something I’ll be proud of the rest of my life."
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Having skipped summer training while he debated retiring, Miller nearly didn’t have enough energy to hold on as he came over the final pitch of the slalom course.
"My legs started feeling really wobbly," he said. "I didn’t even feel like I was looking at the gate anymore."
Miller has also won a silver and a bronze at the Vancouver Games — a sharp contrast from his no-medal performance in Turin four years ago, when he made more headlines for his late-night partying than his skiing.
Miller said he was running on "fumes" following his first two races, the downhill and the super-G.
"I felt awesome about it," he said. "But still, it’s incredibly emotionally exhausting to do it like that.
"I’ve got one leg that’s injured and another leg that’s on my boat already," he added, looking forward to his postseason vacation.
Ivica Kostelic of Croatia took the silver medal, 0.33 seconds behind, and Silvan Zurbriggen of Switzerland claimed bronze, 0.40 seconds back.
Downhill leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway didn’t complete his slalom leg, sealing the victory for Miller.
Miller was faster than Svindal on the upper section of the downhill run, but acknowledged a series of mistakes on the lower part. Still, having begun his career as a slalom specialist, he wasn’t counting himself out and charged all the way down in the second leg.
Miller increased his lead at both checkpoints in the slalom. He skied fluidly on the top, then started to get bounced up in the air as he tried to maintain his speed on the quicker gates in the lower section, dropping some speed before the finish but maintaining enough to beat Kostelic. Miller let out a big smile upon crossing the finish line and stuck out his tongue while the crowd roared its approval.
With his third medal, Miller matched retired Norwegian great Kjetil Andrea Aamodt for the most medals for one man in Alpine skiing at a recent Olympics.
Aamodt won two silvers and a bronze at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, while Jean-Claude Killy swept all three events at the 1968 Grenoble Games and Toni Sailer did the same at Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956.
Miller now has five Olympic medals overall.
He won two silvers at Salt Lake City in 2002 and opened these games by taking bronze in the downhill and silver in the super-G.
Miller’s victory boosted the U.S. medal tally in Alpine skiing at the Vancouver games to a record eight medals — already three more than the five from Sarajevo in 1984 — with four races remaining.
Winning the super-combined was appropriate for Miller, who has always been proud of his overall skiing ability.
Super-combined adds the times from one downhill run and one slalom leg – meaning it is a true test of an overall skier.
Miller won two overall World Cup titles — the first in 2004-05 and the second in 2007-08 in his first season racing independently from the U.S. Ski Team. After debating all summer whether to even return to skiing, Miller rejoined the U.S. team in September and hastily prepared for the World Cup season.
His true goal, he now acknowledges, was preparing to redeem himself at the Olympics.
Over the years, Miller traditionally started the World Cup season in October strongly and wore himself down by February. But by targeting his entire season around the games, he entered in better form — and with a better mindset — than he did in Turin.
After the victory ceremony, Miller celebrated and posed for pictures in the finish area with all his coaches on the U.S. team.