Miller wins super-combined for 1st Olympic gold
This is the way Bode Miller always wanted it to happen, needed
it to happen.
An Olympic gold medal may be the ultimate evidence of skiing
success in everyone else’s eyes, but most assuredly not in his. If
the willful Miller ever was going to earn one and truly embrace the
accomplishment, this is how it had to be.
He conquered a tricky course with sometimes-spectacular skiing
that reminded him of being a kid on the slopes. He overcame a big
deficit by pushing himself despite a bum left knee and an aching
right ankle. In sum, he turned in a performance that pleased him,
regardless of what the clock said.
In this case, it just so happens, Miller’s total time from one
downhill and one slalom was Sunday’s best, allowing the 32-year-old
from Franconia, N.H., to win the super-combined event signifying
all-around skiing ability – and that first career gold. He now has
a record-tying three medals at these Olympics after only three
races, quite a comeback from his infamous flop at the 2006 Turin
Games and his near-retirement last year.
“The gold medal is great. I think it’s perfect. Ideally, that’s
what everyone is shooting for. But the way I skied these last races
is what matters. I would’ve been proud of that skiing with a medal
or not,” Miller said after turning in the third-fastest slalom leg
for an overall time of 2 minutes, 44.92 seconds, a comfortable 0.33
ahead of Ivica Kostelic of Croatia. Silvan Zurbriggen of
Switzerland got the bronze.
“The way I executed – the way I skied – is something I’ll be
proud of the rest of my life,” Miller said.
Whether he ever says so or not, it’s the Olympic gold medal that
changes history’s view of Miller. What happened in Turin is now an
aberration rather than the defining moment. Now he’ll always be
seen by those outside the sport as one of Alpine skiing’s greats
who frittered away one Olympics, not a should-have-been who never
fulfilled his promise.
“I mean, Bode has now done everything you can in skiing. He’s
won World Cups. He’s won World Cup overall titles,” said Will
Brandenburg of Spokane, Wash., who finished 10th in his Olympic
debut. “He’s won medals in every color. And now he’s got the gold.
And I think that’s big. He’s one of the best skiers of all time now
and no one can discredit that.”
Older and perhaps wiser – although good luck getting this guy to
admit the latter – Miller is at the top of his game at the right
What a week.
He also won a bronze in Monday’s downhill and a silver in
Friday’s super-G, adding to two silvers at the 2002 Salt Lake City
Games. The five Alpine medals tie him for the second-most by any
man in Olympic history, behind only the eight won by Kjetil Andre
Aamodt of Norway.
At this point, who would doubt that Miller could keep going,
maybe coming up with something special in the two remaining events,
the giant slalom Tuesday and the slalom Saturday.
Miller was asked why he’s doing this now, and not in Italy four
years ago, when he tuned out, partied hard and failed to live up to
the expectations thrust on him by the media, by sponsors, by fans.
Miller only finished two of five races back then, never better than
In short, he said, what happened there was a reaction to all of
those expectations. And what’s happening here is a reaction to
enjoying a fresh sense of excitement after taking time away from
skiing and thinking about quitting before eventually deciding in
September to return to the U.S. Ski Team.
“In ’06, I didn’t really necessarily want to be there for a
number of reasons … but, you know, I also didn’t want to not be
there. So I was incredibly conflicted,” he said. “I think I had
no intention really of blowing it, but I raced as hard as I could,
but I didn’t have this motivation. I didn’t have the energy and the
Some of that comes from spending more time around his younger
teammates. At the last Olympics, Miller stayed in his own RV, away
from the rest of the Americans. At these Olympics, he’s living in a
condo with everyone else, eating with everyone else, training with
everyone else, feeding off the energy of everyone else.
“He’s been really motivated,” said Ted Ligety, the surprise
2006 Turin gold medalist who was fifth Sunday. “It’s cool to
really see him win an Olympic gold. That’s what’s been missing from
Miller got a late start to training before the World Cup season,
and when he worked hard to get going, he hurt his left knee and
needed arthroscopic surgery in October to clean it out. Another
setback came in December, when Miller injured his right ankle
playing volleyball, of all things. On top of that, he took a bad
tumble in slalom training at Whistler, flying about 35 feet before
landing on his left hip.
In the downhill that opened the super-combined, Miller was only
seventh-fastest. He knew he had to make up time in the slalom, and
it didn’t help that he was hurting and felt exhausted, even if he
did begin his career as a slalom specialist.
Miller increased his lead at both checkpoints in the slalom, but
after skiing fluidly at the top, he barely managed to get through
one gate after another on a demanding course set by Kostelic’s
father and coach, Ante.
“I was like, ‘God, get me to the finish.’ I knew I had a great
run going, but I mean, I don’t know how I got those last 15
gates,” Miller said. “It was literally just willpower, because my
legs were completely shot.”
He moved into the lead, but had to wait while six other skiers
who were faster in the downhill portion got their turns, including
double medalist Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.
“I couldn’t hold back,” Svindal said. “I had to attack it if
I had any chance to get that gold.”
But when Svindal, who had the fastest morning downhill, skied
off-course in the slalom, that gold medal was Miller’s.
As he walked away from the finish area, he stopped to sign
autographs and pose for pictures, even kneeling down to eye level
to thank one girl for her support. Miller’s own daughter turned 2
this week, and while he won’t tell you fatherhood changed him as a
person, he will say it made him reconsider his priorities away from
When he’s on skis, he refuses to change this stance: Medals are
not what matters.
Still, Miller’s father, Woody, who was at Sunday’s race, said
his kid “was hungry” to perform well this time around.
“He’s enjoying himself. That’s always been key for him. He lost
that. That was what was key in Torino,” Woody Miller said. “He
was going through the motions, but not really enjoying
Miller did, indeed, make clear that he was happy to finally have
a gold, but he also repeatedly made the point that there are other
rewards he finds more satisfying.
“It’s hard to really describe in a way that makes sense, but
the actual gold medal doesn’t mean that much. If I’d won it in a
way that I wasn’t excited about or proud of today, I would have
probably resented the medal in a certain way because of what it
makes everyone else think,” Miller said.
A few minutes later, he added: “People are generally not good
at separating those two things. They think you’re proud because you
won an Olympic medal, and the reality is I’m proud because I skied
that way at the Olympics.”
With that, he walked away from the race site, heading off to
collect his new prize at the official medal ceremony in the village
below the mountain, his mountain. And then maybe, just maybe,
Miller would head out to celebrate his gold medal.