Thursday, February 21, 2002
Miller first American man to medal in giant slalom
PARK CITY, Utah -- Bode Miller crossed the finish line all but sitting on his skis.
Yet another of his daredevil comebacks had catapulted Miller to his second silver medal of the Salt Lake City Games, sweeping him past everyone but Stephan Eberharter in Thursday's giant slalom.
After lacking his usual gusto and placing seventh on the morning run, Miller went for broke in the afternoon.
"When I crossed the finish line I knew I couldn't have skied any better," said Miller, who sideswiped the final gate and tilted sideways before leaning back on his skis.
"I didn't really care how I finished," he said. "I was just playing around a little bit. I felt like I had a great run and there just wasn't anything left."
Miller rallied to become the first U.S. man to medal in the giant slalom, as he had done in the combined event last week. Second-run comebacks are a tradition among slalom greats such as Alberto Tomba and Ingemar Stenmark.
"This is maybe the biggest accomplishment of my life, to ski the way I skied today," Miller said. "I feel like I skied my best race today. It was only good enough for second, but Eberharter was one of the best racers in history today. I don't think anyone would have beaten him."
Eberharter finally emerged from the shadow of fellow Austrian Hermann Maier by winning his third medal of these Winter Games. He finished 0.88 seconds ahead of Miller, then fell sideways in the snow in the finish area and stayed on the ground for several moments in celebration.
"I was thinking it's done," Eberharter said. "It was my last chance to win a gold medal, because this is my last Olympic Games."
Eberharter's winning time was 2 minutes, 23.28 seconds. Miller finished in 2:24.16 and Lasse Kjus won bronze in 2:24.32. Kjus was a silver medalist last week in the downhill.
Kjus now has five Alpine medals in the Olympics, trailing only the record seven accumulated by his Norwegian teammate, Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who also has two medals at these games.
Miller fought to maintain balance as he raced down the slope, pounding gates with both arms as he weaved down the icy course. He made up much of his time in the middle of the course, where his exceptional speed made the difference.
"He has a crazy style in skiing," Eberharter said, "but he's fast, and that's what counts."
Both Miller's silvers are historic.
Last week, he became the first American man to win a medal in the combined event, and no U.S. man had finished higher than fourth in the giant slalom before Thursday.
Since he was only seventh after an uncharacteristically tame first run, Miller started seventh-to-last among the second-run leaders.
He watched from the bottom of the course as one skier fell and two others failed to match his time. When Kjus also finished behind Miller, it assured the American of a medal.
Then came Italy's Massimiliano Blardone, who was second on the morning run but hurt his ankle by slamming into a fence in the finish area. He didn't come close to Miller, pushing the American up to at least silver.
Eberharter, the 1998 Olympic silver medalist in giant slalom, could have played it safe and protected his big lead from the first run. But his second run was golden, just 0.03 seconds behind Miller's.
Eberharter, who won silver in the super giant slalom and bronze in the downhill last week, joins Aamodt (1994), Jean Claude Killy (1968), Toni Sailer (1956) and Henri Oreiller (1948) as the only men to win three Alpine medals in one Olympics.
Miller will try to join that three-medal club Saturday in the slalom, where he's the favorite.
"Today was awesome, two silver medals and still going strong," he said. "I raced a great race today. If I can do that and come down and feel like I raced a really great race in the slalom, I think I'll have a gold."