Saturday, February 23, 2002
Miller misses chance at historic third medal
PARK CITY, Utah -- Bode Miller could have played it safe on a treacherous slalom course and waltzed to his third medal in 11 days.
But that's not his style.
Miller threw himself down the mountain Saturday afternoon, falling just 15 seconds into his run. He climbed back onto the course, but missed a gate about 20 seconds later. Miller again worked his way back and finished in 25th place, nearly 12 seconds behind a Frenchman who won gold in his Olympic debut.
"It's the Olympics, you know. If I had backed off and I came down in fifth place or sixth place, I think I would have been really disappointed. I was going for the win," Miller said.
"If it was somewhere else, maybe I would have had the ability to hold back a little bit more. But I want to go out and race my best race in front of my home crowd."
Jean-Pierre Vidal, who three years ago severed ligaments in both knees in a training accident and spent 45 days in a wheelchair, won by 0.76 seconds over French teammate Sebastien Amiez.
Alain Baxter won bronze, becoming the first British skier to win an Alpine medal.
Vidal, who turns 25 Sunday, had a lead of 2.15 seconds over Amiez from the first run and delicately twisted down the slope for gold.
"When I heard that Miller had gone out, I knew that I had a two-second lead over Amiez and all I needed was to finish," Vidal said. "But I still needed to finish."
Miller had won silver in the giant slalom and in the combined event, and was trying to become the first U.S. skier to win three Alpine medals in a career -- let alone one Olympics.
And he was in perfect position to do just that, starting the afternoon run in second place -- trailing only Vidal. Miller had a lead of 1.79 seconds over Amiez entering the run, and knew beating Amiez would ensure him of at least another silver medal.
He also knew several skiers had fallen or missed gates on an incredibly tricky second-run course set by Miller's coach, U.S. slalom coach Jesse Hunt.
"My coaches set it to challenge the skiers. What it does is allow me to put a lot of time on guys, because I come into those sections with a lot more speed than anybody else," Miller said. "I can carry it through usually. It's a risk every time you do it. That's slalom racing."
Hunt said his plan was undermined by the warm weather. Temperatures in the mid-40s caused the snow to deteriorate quickly.
"I did set a tough course today for Bode, thinking that he could definitely put time on people through the difficult parts," Hunt said. "As it turned out, the conditions broke down a little bit and made it tougher than I anticipated."
Vidal won in 1 minute, 41.06 seconds. Amiez had a time of 1:41.82 and Baxter's time was 1:42.32.
The top 15 skiers from the morning run start in inverse order in the second run. In other words, the 15th-fastest skier from the first run starts first on the second run -- and the leader starts 15th.
The first four starters on the second run all skied off the course. Three skiers later, Amiez took the lead -- and then watched with amusement and amazement as the rest of the field collapsed.
Four skiers failed to match his time. Then came Croatia's Ivica Kostelic, the older brother of quadruple medalist Janica.
Kostelic, who was fourth fastest on the morning run, was putting up a good time until he missed a gate near the bottom of the course and was disqualified.
Then came Austria's Benjamin Raich, who skied too carefully and finished way behind Amiez.
Next was Miller, who struggled almost from the start.
Perhaps overlooked in the excitement over Miller's dramatic final-run rallies for silver in the giant slalom and in the combined event is the reality that his all-or-nothing style often results in costly mistakes.
On Saturday, it probably cost him a historic medal.
"That wasn't what I was thinking about at all. If I was, maybe I would have backed off," he said.
Miller talked with reporters for more than an hour after the race, casually sipping a beer.
"I put myself in a great position after the first run. That was the plan," he said. "Then it was to ski a hard second run. To back off of that, I think I would have been a lot more disappointed than I am now."