- Alpine Skiing
Bode Miller disappointed, but dealing with downhill defeat
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Ski racing can be so, so capricious. The light, just a little bit of light, can make such a huge, huge difference. When you race, the luck of the draw can work for — or against — you.
If ever conditions seemed set up for Bode Miller to win the Olympic downhill, here they were. After taking last year off to recover from a bum knee, he had worked himself back into peak condition. Moreover, this Rosa Khutor course was icy, dangerous, thrilling, just the way he likes it. Over the three training runs had gone 1-6-1, setting the pace, his rivals acknowledging he was the man to beat.
- Full event replay
- Bode Miller finishes 8th in Olympic downhill
- Austria’s Matthias Mayar wins downhill gold
- Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud earns downhill bronze
- Italy’s Christof Innerhofer takes downhill silver
- Bode Miller speaks after disappointing finish
- Men’s downhill medal ceremony
While others were crashing out, Bode had somehow figured out a magic line, especially at the top of the course. Anticipation ran high as he stepped into the start gate, No 15. Yes, surely he would race more races. But at 36, this was probably his last Olympic downhill.
Two minutes, six-point-75 seconds later it was over.
He wasn’t fast enough.
Embedded video_content_type: Bode Miller falters, Matthias Mayer wins downhill gold
It was as if all the air at the bottom of the hill had gone out of southern Russia. Everyone — not just the few Americans in the stands but everyone — suddenly went quiet as Miller, using his ski poles for balance or ballast or something, slowly traversed the finish area. He stopped just short of the arched doorway by which athletes leave the field of play to take off his skis. There, he looked back up the course, at the mountain, at opportunity lost.
He looked up for, really, a few seconds. Sometimes, times plays tricks. Those few seconds seemed to last a very, very long time.
When Bode ran the track, the light was flat. A few minutes before, the sun had been out. That made all the difference in Sunday’s Olympic downhill.
Matthias Mayer of Austria got the good sun. He won, in 2:06.23. Mayer is just 23. He not only had never won a major international downhill — he had not won a major international race. His father, Helmut, won silver in the super-G, at the 1988 Calgary Games.
At the 2010 Vancouver Games, the typically mighty Austrian men’s alpine team won zero — again, no — medals. Mayer’s gold offered a powerful first step Sunday toward redemption.
Christof Innerhofer of Italy, a two-time medalist at the 2011 world championships who has been struggling with chronic back problems, took silver, just six-hundredths back. The first Italian medalist in Olympic downhill since 1976, he was so thrilled at the finish line that he made snow angels on his back.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, who ripped up his knee at last year’s world championships, took bronze. He finished a tenth of a second behind Mayer.
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, last year’s downhill world champion and this year’s World Cup leader in the discipline, came in fourth, 29-hundredths back. He said, “Bode had some fast sections. I had some fast sections. I think the best guy won.”
On this day, Bode wasn’t even the fastest American. That was Travis Ganong, 25, of Squaw Valley, Calif., who took fifth, 41-hundredths back, absolutely hammering the bottom part of the course to make up time. “I had fun,” he said afterward. “It all worked out.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Bode Miller: Downhill disappointment in Sochi
“He let it go and I don’t think he realized how good he was,” veteran U.S. racer Steven Nyman said later of Ganong, of whom many are predicting an enormous future.
“I’m real excited to see him come out and ski like he can,” the U.S. men’s head coach, Sasha Rearick said.
Miller’s time ultimately landed Bode in eighth place.
“Before the race,” Mayer said, “Bode told me that he was really nervous. But I was really looking forward to the race, and I think that was an advantage.”
Bode’s advantage in training had been at the top part of the course. Here were his split times at the first interval through the three days of training:
- Day 1 25.20
- Day 2 24.94
- Day 3 24.84
Now, on Race Day: 25.44.
That 25.44 was second-best in the field. But he admittedly made a bobble. And he needed more. Because by the time Bib 15 came up course conditions were very different than they were for Mayer at 11.
“The numbers about 10 had a little bit of advantage because the sun was coming out,” Mayer said. “The last flat there was a little bit wet snow or soft snow. I think a few hundredths of a second were an advantage.”
As the saying goes, numbers do not lie. From the third to the fourth split, Mayer ran 22.79. That proved fourth-best. Miller? 23.28, 23rd.
Ganong, Bib 7, was first, at 22.55. And he was first again from there to the line, 14.53.
“The middle and bottom of the course slowed down so much from the beginning of the race to when I went,” Miller said, adding, “You would have had to do something magical to win.”
He explained further, “It’s always a challenge in World Cup or ski racing in general. We have 2 minute, 2:15, 2:45 intervals between racers. It’s a big change. Twenty minutes of time, a half-hour of time makes a massive difference in snow conditions.
“I didn’t make any mistakes in the middle and bottom of the course and lost a ton of time,” he said, explaining that with different conditions he surely would “have a better result next to my name — it’s one of those days where it’s hard to say where the time went. I skied pretty well. I was really aggressive. I took a lot of risk. I made a couple of small mistakes. But not mistakes that cost you a lot of time. It’s tough to just be missing it.”
In training Saturday, Miller, who is given to highlight the experiential value of skiing, had closed his few moments with reporters by saying something he almost never acknowledges — that he was in it to win it. “I’m going to be ready,” he had said. “I want to win.”
Thus those moments for lingering and looking up the hill while taking off his skis? He knew what was coming.
“I was just going through the run and seeing if there’s anything I would change or how I feel.
“It’s tough when you have to judge yourself because the clock doesn’t really seem to judge you fairly. So, you know, just like I have said a million times, I am not always so attached to the result. I would have loved to have gotten a gold medal or any medal. But I was making sure I knew where I was at before I had to go deal with everybody else telling me what they thought.
“I felt like I skied OK today. I am disappointed I didn’t get a medal but I really — I brought huge intensity and I skied aggressive. I was pushing the line. The conditions didn’t favor me today. That’s the case a lot of the time in World Cup. You just have to deal with it.”