Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Miller grabs silver with stirring comeback
SNOWBASIN, Utah -- The poor slalom gate, like all but one of Bode Miller's opponents, never stood a chance.
Miller's all-or-nothing second slalom run -- he blew away the rest of the field by an amazing 1.18 seconds -- catapulted him to a silver medal in the combined Wednesday, ending an eight-year U.S. medal drought.
Miller fell in the downhill and slipped on the first slalom run. In his breakneck second slalom run, he shattered the gate as he twisted and turned toward the first medal by a U.S. male Alpine skier since 1994.
It was a second run in the tradition of great slalomers such as Alberto Tomba and Ingemar Stenmark, known for their amazing comebacks. It brought back memories of Tomba's silver-medal slalom at the 1994 Olympics, in which he rallied from 12th.
"It was a great run, that's what I was going for in a second run," Miller said. "I really didn't feel I had anything else I could do. I'd been trying to ski how I needed to ski all day and it wasn't working. So I decided to ski how I wanted to ski."
He was 15th after the downhill portion, trailing eventual gold medalist Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway by a whopping 2.44 seconds. He moved up to fifth after the first slalom run, then passed three skiers on the final slalom run.
His day almost ended in the downhill, where he fell midway down the course. The left side of his body scraped the snow.
"The next thing I knew, I was down on my thigh sliding right at my coaches. I got up fast, not to try to stay on course and take second in the combined -- it was to not kill myself and the coaches, because I was going about 65 mph," he said.
"If it hadn't been a life-threatening situation, I probably wouldn't have been able to pull it off. I felt like if I didn't do it, I would probably die."
Miller became only the second American man to win an Alpine skiing medal since 1984. The only other is Tommy Moe, who won two medals in 1994.
Miller also became the first American man to win an Olympic medal in the combined event, in which results are an aggregate of the downhill and two slalom runs.
Aamodt claimed a record sixth Olympic medal, winning in an overall time of 3 minutes, 17.56 seconds. Miller was 0.28 seconds behind and Benjamin Raich of Austria won the bronze, 0.42 behind Miller.
No other Alpiner has won as many Olympic medals as Aamodt, who had been tied with Tomba, Vreni Schneider and Katja Seizinger on five. Aamodt also is the three-time defending world champion in the combined event, and was a 1994 Olympic silver medalist in the event.
Miller's chances for a medal looked slim after the downhill portion, and he was downcast after his first slalom run. He sent snow flying on that run when his skis failed to grip and he slipped at two turns.
What did he think his medal chances were entering the second run?
"I don't rate it in odds, I'm not Vegas," he said. "But I had a chance to ski hard. I had a 100 percent chance to show that I'm willing to race hard and that I have a lot of speed."
All three parts of the event were run on the same day, an Olympic first.
An extremely difficult first-run slalom course narrowed the field considerably. Only 27 of the 47 racers who started the combined event Wednesday morning made it to the second slalom run.
Among those who fell on the first slalom run was Casey Puckett of Aspen, Colo., who became just the second U.S. male Alpine skier to compete in four Olympics.
Miller remains a favorite in the slalom and a medal hopeful in the giant slalom next week.
"He's revolutionized the way of skiing, as I see it. Nobody has ever skied that fast, like he's doing in slalom this year. It's amazing," Aamodt said.
"When he's putting it together, he is in a class of his own right now. He's like Alberto Tomba was. I think Bode, if he can keep his focus going, he can catch up to him. I've never seen anybody ski so fast."