Bode Miller (USA) celebrates winning bronze.
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Amid growing concerns that the U.S. ski team might have a horrible Winter Olympics and that its biggest star is a has-been, the old man of the mountain - 36-year-old Bode Miller - made one more classic stand.
Miller, who sat out all of last season recovering from knee surgery, hadn't won a race in more than two years and had bombed out in Sochi in the downhill and super-combined, placed unusual (for him) emphasis on the results of the men's super-G Sunday.
"If it's not the most important race of my life, it's right there with it," said Miller, who throughout his long career has emphasized skiing excellence and feel over results. "I had a lot to show today."
He showed it.
Miller, who grew up ripping around the mountains of New Hampshire on skis, roared down a mountain in south Russia with reckless abandon, nearly losing control, risking all, just barely keeping it together enough to make it to the finish line.
It was the kind of racing that had produced five Olympic medals, five world championship medals, 33 World Cup victories and two overall World Cup titles.
On Sunday, another bright, warm day at the Rosa Khutor alpine center, it produced a personal triumph and an important result for the U.S. team that had struggled in the Sochi games - a bronze medal, his sixth Olympic medal, a record for U.S. skiers.
He finished tied with Canada's Jan Hudec, who also got a bronze medal, and behind only gold medalist Kjetil Jansrud of Norway and U.S. teammate Andrew Weibrecht, whose shocking silver medal made it a two-medal day for the U.S. ski team.
"I put in a lot of work," Miller said. "This was a really hard year. It was a lot of effort coming back to get fit and get ready and just battle through what life throws at you sometimes. To come out and ski hard, it is almost therapeutic for me to be in these situations where I really have to test myself."
Miller won two medals at age 24 in Salt Lake City. At age 28 and a heavy favorite in multiple events in Torino, he was shut out of the medals, created one negative distraction after another with his late-night carousing in Sestriere and offered up a quote that haunted him: "I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."
At age 32, he made headlines only on the race hill at the Vancouver Games, winning gold (super-combined), silver (super-G) and bronze (downhill).
Now, at age 36, he has become the oldest alpine skier to win an Olympic medal, coming full cycle from the brash, enigmatic young skier he was in Salt Lake City to the brash, enigmatic old skier he is today.
"To be on the podium, this is a really big day for me," Miller said. "Emotionally, I had a lot riding on it. Even though I didn't ski my best - a lot of mistakes - I'm just super, super happy.
"I always feel like I'm capable of winning medals. But as you've seen in these Olympics, it's not that easy. On a given day, there are so many guys."
At one point, Miller became emotional in the finish area after his race. He said later that he had been thinking about his brother, Chelone, who died at age 29 last April of an apparent seizure thought to be related to the traumatic brain injury he sustained in a motorcycle accident in 2005. He tweeted shortly after the race: "Thanks for all the support, today was one of the most emotional days of my life. I miss my brother."
Known (after Torino) as an Olympic flop, Miller is now behind only Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who had eight, in OIympic alpine medals, and he tied speedskaters Bonnie Blair for second place behind Apolo Ohno (eight) for the most medals among all U.S. Winter Olympians.
Starting 13th, Miller had the fastest time until No. 21 - Jansrud - came in first with a time of 1 minute, 18.14 seconds, 0.53 seconds faster the Miller.
The next skier, Hudec, tied Miller's time. That looked like the podium until Weibrecht, Miller's unheralded U.S. teammate, starting from the 29th position, thrust himself into second position, 0.30 seconds behind Jansrud.
The tie between Miller and Hudec was the second medal tie at these Games, and the sixth in Olympic alpine history. Tina Maze of Slovenia and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland tied for the gold medal Wednesday in the women's downhill.
Miller won a silver medal in this event, just ahead of Weibrecht, in Vancouver in 2010, finishing behind Norwegian gold medalist Aksel Lund Svindal, who was seventh Sunday.
Weibrecht, 28, of Lake Placid, N.Y., who in the years after his medal in Vancouver had shoulder and ankle operations and thought he might lose his funding from the U.S. team because his results were so bad, captured Olympic magic once again.
Weibrecht, who discussed possibly retiring after this season in an interview with USA TODAY Sports before the season began, has never been on the podium (top three) in a World Cup race. He has two podiums in his career - the two Olympic medals.
How does that happen?
"There's so much energy here," said Weibrecht, nicknamed "Warhorse" because of his reckless, go-for-it style, and also because he's crashed a lot. "I knew I had skied well. I knew I had a good run. When I came to the finish, I just sort of appreciated my run. I took a couple of seconds to see the time. I saw '2,' then I looked away, and then I looked again.
"It's been a rough couple of years. This makes up for it."
Weibrecht shares a ski technician with Miller - Chris Krause - and raced Sunday on an old pair of Miller's skis.
Miller said he knew Weibrecht had it in him.
"With the intensity he has and the athletic ability he has on his skis, I can't say I'm surprised," Miller said. "I was on the podium with him last time, and I was lucky to have snuck ahead of him last time. He got me this time."
Ted Ligety, who won the world championship super-G last year, had a fast run going until he made a huge mistake that cost him too much time, and he finished 14th.
The U.S. ski team had won just one medal - Julia Mancuso's bronze in super-combined - in the first five races of these Games, a far cry from its performance in Vancouver, when it won an astounding seven medals, on the way to a record total of eight, in the first five races.
"The Games aren't over yet," U.S. ski team alpine director Patrick Riml had said in response to questions about the team's performance.
On Sunday, in the sixth of 10 Sochi races, the old man and a forgotten man echoed that.
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