American Bode Miller wins gold in men's super combined event at Vancouver Olympics

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 22, 2010

WHISTLER, B.C. -- When he reached the finish line of a darting and dashing slalom course here, Bode Miller subtly pumped both his fists -- he had taken the lead in the Olympic super combined event -- and then bent at the waist, utterly exhausted. This is what he had arrived here for, at his fourth Olympics, to overcome all the obstacles a ski race presents: the mental and physical toll of the competition, the entire field of elite racers, the course itself.

"I had zero energy, and I had zero margin for error," Miller said, "If I made any mistakes, I'd be way back. It felt awesome."

The way Miller competed in Sunday's super combined, an event in which he won the first Olympic gold medal in an increasingly illustrious career, showed why close observers of Alpine skiing have long considered him one of the most talented athletes ever to take to the slopes. In the morning, he skied a solid downhill run that was, typically, less than perfect. And in the afternoon, he overcame that with a slalom run that came from nowhere.

So by day's end came a perfect picture of Miller's ability to, when he wants to, handle every discipline, every kind of terrain, every situation.

"I've never really had too many confidence issues in my skiing," Miller said. "But to execute on a day like today, and the way I executed, the way I skied, is something I'll be proud of for the rest of my life. I put down absolutely wide-open runs. I've been able to ski better. I could have skied better today. But I skied with 100 percent heart, and didn't hold anything back. It felt phenomenal."

Though Miller's lone World Cup victory of this comeback season -- he left the circuit after last year's World Championships and contemplated retirement -- came in a super combined event, Sunday's victory was far from a guarantee. Yes, Miller had won bronze in the downhill and silver in the Super-G earlier at these Games, showing that his speed skiing was in top form. But when he came down seventh in that downhill portion -- .76 of a second behind leader Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway -- the pressure was on for the afternoon.

"It's not like I was going to hold back anyway," Miller said between runs. "But I'm going to be going full gas in the slalom."

In 2006 in Turin, the combined gold went to Miller's teammate, Ted Ligety. Since then, officials have changed the format of the competition. Instead of one run of downhill and two runs of slalom, one of the slalom runs was eliminated. Miller, like Ligety, said prior to the Games that he wasn't thrilled with the change to the super combined. But it played to his advantage, because if he was going to go all-out on the slalom portion, he had to survive only once.

"If you really watch his skis, he's definitely the cleanest on the snow of anybody else out there, especially taking such a tight line as he does," Ligety said. "There's not many guys that go as tight and as clean as he does. The way he sets the body position, the way he gets in those positions, and to be able to have the 'cojones' to really use those lines and be as clean as he can is pretty remarkable."

For the slalom run, the top 30 racers go in inverted order, so Svindal -- who already has a gold and a silver here -- went last. Ligety, who was 15th after the downhill, actually grabbed the lead for a time, turning in a slalom run of 50.76 seconds, the fastest of the day. But Ligety's combined time of 2 minutes 45.82 seconds was still well within reach of some of the best slalom racers in the world.

He held off Austria's Bejamin Raich, a contender for slalom gold and the leader of the World Cup overall standings, by .31 seconds. Then, though, came Croatia's Ivica Kostelic, the older, less-accomplished brother of six-time Olympic medalist Janica Kostelic, who is retired.

Kostelic, whose father actually set the course, grabbed the lead with a slalom run of 51.05 seconds that put him .57 seconds ahead of Ligety.

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