KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – In the end, after all the blazing practice performances, Bode Miller's body dragged to a halt – an anchor wedged into the frozen earth just beyond the Sochi finish line.
The most dominant downhill racer in Olympic training the previous three days, Miller was betrayed by something at the end – his skis, the gates, perhaps some shadows. Whatever it was, he went from sudden gold-medal favorite in the downhill to an eighth-place finisher, lingering in a daze over his ski poles at the finish line. Just like that, an unexpected but very real chance at another gold medal vanished.
"I feel disappointed," Miller said.
And he wore that emotion, too. The typically nonchalant skier, known to shrug off failure with a flip of his wrist, hung his body over his poles after his finish Sunday. Not far away, his wife Morgan had her head down, sunglasses shielding her eyes. She watched a derelict Miller linger alone near the finish line for nearly five minutes, at one point sitting down against a fence in disbelief.
Despite Miller dominating the Sochi speed course and posting the best times in two of three training days in the downhill event, mistakes in the middle of his run cost him a chance at a medal. With shadows falling on various parts of the course, he finished his run at 2:06.75. This despite coming off the top of the mountain smoking after the first two splits, charging out to a .31-second lead over eventual Austrian gold-medal-winner Matthias Mayer.
"I skied hard and well, and that's the most important thing," Miller said. "It just didn't go all right."
The race changed when Miller appeared to clip two gates heading for his third split, killing his momentum and putting him .02 behind Mayer's pace. And while he said he didn't think it had a major impact, it was clear his speed faded from that point. By the time he reached his fourth split, he was .51 off the lead with no momentum or distance to make up the deficit.
"I'm really not sure what went wrong," Miller said. "The visibility is different today, and that's the only disadvantage I had. But it's something I face all the time. If the visibility is really good I can ski my best. If it isn't, I can't. I wanted to ski it as hard as I could and not really back off, but it requires a lot of tactics today which I didn't apply."
Mayer won the gold with a time of 2:06.23. The United States' Travis Ganong put down a strong run, battling for a medal but ultimately sliding to fifth place. Americans Steven Nyman and Marco Sullivan finished 27th and 30th, respectively.
"Bode was very fast in training runs," Mayer said. "I analyzed his runs. Especially to the first intermediate, Bode was unbelievable [Saturday]. Everybody knew Bode could be the Olympic winner today."
That much was obvious after a three-day practice run in which Miller clearly appeared to be the best skier on the course. His final training run on Saturday saw him notch a blistering 2:06.09, which would have easily won gold on Sunday. But it was not to be, and Mayer won his first Olympic medal – outside his best discipline (super-G), no less.
But Mayer hadn't exactly been an unknown on the course. While Miller won the training runs on Thursday and Saturday, it was Mayer who captured the day on Friday, installing himself as someone to watch in the final. Mayer ultimately won gold by crushing the bottom of the course, dropping an arguably flawless run after his second split.
Mayer said he believed the first 10 skiers had an advantage because the sun was still coming up and had not changed the lighting and conditions in some of the flats. He was the 11th skier in the rotation. Miller was the 15th out of the gate. Miller also said he thought some of the terrain had changed between Saturday and Sunday.
Miller, 36, entered his fifth Olympics seeking to become the first male skier over the age of 34 to win an Alpine medal in the Games. And while he fell short, he'll still have opportunities to accomplish that feat later in these Games. A five-discipline skier, Miller is still among the world's best in the super-G and super combined.
Miller is defending two medals from the 2010 Vancouver Games – a gold in the super combined and a silver in the super-G. While historically those would have been stronger events for Miller's medal chances, it's debatable after watching him ski so well in the downhill. In essence, Sunday's downhill may have been where his last best chance at another medal rested in Sochi. Miller is also expected to compete in the slalom and giant slalom. His next race is expected to be the super combined on Friday.
Miller wasn't alone in his misery on Sunday. Norway's heavily touted Aksel Lund Svindal finished in fourth place at 2:06.52 – effectively relegating the much-anticipated Miller-Svindal matchup a complete medals dud.
"[Fourth place] is pretty much the worst place to be," Svindal said afterward. "I've been there before and probably will be again. …If you want to fight for medals, you have to be prepared to lose out on them."
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