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For the first time at these Olympic Games, the Americans failed to grab a piece of an Alpine podium, finishing well out of medal position in Tuesday's giant slalom. Only Ted Ligety put up a serious challenge, finishing ninth, as Miller missed a gate and failed to finish in the morning portion of the runs. It halted a U.S. Alpine best of six consecutive races with a medal – somewhat of a surprise with Ligety leading the World Cup giant slalom standings and also getting bronze in the event in the 2009 world championships.
"It's disappointing not to keep the streak going with the medals and the races," Ligety said. "Especially [when] I felt like of all the guys on the team, I should have been getting medals, for sure. Bode, obviously [has performed well], and [Andrew] Weibrecht was a good surprise. I felt like I should be on the podium."
The course conditions weren't a major factor as the mountain held up fairly well. Almost all of the racers – including Ligety – were able to get off the course before light rain began to fall. Only the light could be blamed for some of the problems, as an overcast sky prevented most racers from seeing some of the rough patches in their turns.
Arguably the most deflating moment of the race came when Miller got loose and a little reckless in the morning run, missing a gate and costing himself a chance to tie the Olympic Alpine record of four medals in a single Games. Despite not being considered a strong hope to medal, he was clearly one of the crowd favorites, coming into the race as the only Alpine skier with three medals.
His run began with a roar of electricity as he immediately gunned through the first several gates. But he looked slightly out of control, slipping a bit in some turns and appearing to be pushing his way off the course more than once. Then he missed a gate, immediately evoking memories of the 2006 Games in Turin when Miller failed to finish in the combined and slalom events.
Like Turin, he flashed some of his defiance with the media – despite being roundly celebrated by most journalists during his time in Vancouver – skiing out a fence and descending the mountain without taking questions from a mass of reporters waiting him. A reporter for the Associated Press eventually caught up to Miller further down the mountain, and Miller said his run had more to do with his dual-edged aggressive style and some of the light on the course.
"I'm taking more risk than everyone else," Miller said. "That's partly why I'm able to get medals. … I did a good job today, too. I was right there. I was right on the edge.
"This light – I knew I had an issue this morning. I'm not one of the better skiers in flat light. I tend to move a lot more. Some of those guys are so squared up and solid, the bad light doesn't affect them that bad. … I hit any of those little bumps while I'm moving, if I can't see them, I blow out."
In reality, even if Miller had finished the morning run, he likely would have been in a similar situation as Ligety, who went into the afternoon portion six-tenths of a second off the lead. Ligety struggled almost immediately at the top, slipping in a pair of turns and clocking a time between his first and second splits that was almost one second slower than his morning run. By the time he began to make up some time in the middle of the course, he was out of medal contention and the U.S. had lost its faint hope at a seventh straight Alpine podium.
"I knew I had to come down and really push the limits and be clean the whole way down and have a good run, because I was [six] tenths back," Ligety said. "…I definitely didn't feel defeated between runs. I've made up more time than that before. But just running after the TV break wasn't ideal, and I just didn't ski the way I wanted to with those mistakes."
Ligety still has an opportunity to medal in the slalom – as will Miller – and he actually notched the best slalom run of any skier in the super combined Sunday. And while the U.S. team was clearly disappointed at losing its streak, it also knows that things could be far worse. It could be going through the hell that the Austrian team is dealing with, still failing to secure a single medal in men's Alpine, as the team was bumped to fourth, fifth and sixth place Tuesday. The Austrians now have only two medals – women's gold and bronze – through seven races. That's a significant failure for such a ski-frenzied nation, where the press has been repeatedly battering a group that had been dubbed the "Wunderteam" coming into Vancouver.
But if they're looking for sympathy they won't get it from the Americans, who have been chasing the northern European countries for decades in Alpine racing.
"It's pretty cool that the Austrians haven't medaled," Ligety said. "Especially being the ski powerhouse that they are. It's especially cool that America has won so many medals and we've kind of stepped it up here. Leading the Alpine medals table is a really cool accomplishment for us."