KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – For so much of his career, Bode Miller has tried to divorce himself from his results. They were not how he defined himself. His own assessment of his performance – pushing the edges of ski courses all over the world, running up against a line that exists only in his mind – was what mattered.
But when he careened to the bottom of the Olympic downhill course here Sunday morning and looked back at a scoreboard, he put his head in his hands and squatted down in his ski boots, nearly sitting in the snow. The favorite when the day began, buoyed by three brilliant days of training, would not win a medal. And that result mattered to him.
“I would’ve loved to win, obviously,” Miller said. “This is the premier event. I’ve thought about it quite a bit.”
When he crossed the finish, Miller was sixth, trailing eventual winner Matthias Mayer of Austria by .52 of a second. He ended up in eighth, behind silver medalist Christof Innerhofer of Italy, bronze medalist Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, and even his own teammate Travis Ganong, whose best-in-his-career performance left him in fifth.
“That’s racing,” said Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, the World Cup downhill points leader who came in fourth. “No one ever goes and just grabs their medals. You’ve got to put down a perfect run, and under these conditions, that’s actually really hard.”
Miller, 36, said that his post-race crouch had more to do with evaluating his run than it did with downright disappointment. He needed, he said, to consider what he did before he was forced to assess it to worldwide television and print audiences.
“I was disappointed not to have a better result next to my name,” Miller said. “It’s one of those days where it’s hard to say where the time went, because I skied pretty well. I took a lot of risk and I made a couple small mistakes, but not really mistakes that cost you a lot of time.”
When the sun rose Sunday, the Rosa Khutor course was cast in the shadow of clouds for the first time all week, which Miller said provided his biggest disadvantage. In poor visibility at the top of the course, Miller said he wasn’t able to ski quite as aggressively as he normally would over the section on which he needed to excel, where he had established his biggest advantage during training.
Keys to the skis
“The top was where I made that bobble and didn’t have as much time in hand as I did in the training runs,” Miller said. “But that’s also – not to make excuses – but when the visibility goes bad, it affects me quite a bit. Guys that have a little bit different balance and initiation process in the turns, it just doesn’t seem to faze them.
“Matthias is great that way. He doesn’t really change when the visibility goes bad, and that was a big advantage today, because I had to change a lot from the training runs to today just not being able to see the snow up there.”
So even though he led after the first two timing intervals, the advantage evaporated as he went into the flatter part of the course. Miller’s time between the third and fourth intervals, where he had lost speed, ranked 23rd in the field, the worst split time over any section of the course for any finisher in the top 10.
Miller still has chances to add to his total of five Olympic medals in the combined and the super-G and still has a chance to become the oldest Alpine medalist in history. But when he looked at that board Sunday and knew his first good chance – in a race in which the result mattered to him – had slipped away, he cared.
“I don’t think I would change much,” he said. “I skied well enough to win, but it just doesn’t happen sometimes.”