Miller down to last chance at medal

By Howard Fendrich The Associated Press

SESTRIERE, Italy – All those Olympic medals Bode Miller insists he can live without? Turns out he also believes they could just as easily be his.

Instead, they’re going to other skiers – and other countries.

Miller is down to one final chance at the Turin Games after tying for sixth in the giant slalom yesterday, when Benjamin Raich ended his own string of Olympic disappointments by leading a gold-bronze Austrian finish.

Through four of five men’s Alpine races, Miller has finished no better than fifth place in the downhill. He was leading the combined when he was disqualified; he didn’t finish the super-G after slamming into a gate.

“If things went well, I could be sitting on four medals, maybe all of them gold,” he told The Associated Press.”

Asked if a common thread could tie together his results at these games, Miller offered a race-by-race assessment.

In the downhill, he said, “the other guys just found more speed.”

He accepted “pilot error” as reasons for his problems in the combined and super-G.

In the giant slalom, Miller said, he had “a little bit of bad luck” in the first run, when he hit a rock early, then made a trio of errors in the second.

After each run yesterday, the 28-year-old from Franconia, N.H., doubled over, hands on knees, gasping for air.

“Against those guys right now, that won’t do,” he acknowledged as he walked away from the hill and toward his private RV.”

Twelfth after the opening giant slalom leg, Miller did ski a strong second leg. For several skiers, he even watched from the leader’s perch at the bottom of the mountain, mugging for the camera, sticking his tongue out, while chatting with another skier.

Then, one by one, Miller’s rivals bested his time.

Raich had the fastest second run and finished with a total time of 2 minutes, 35 seconds on a course drenched in sun following two days of heavy snowfall. Joel Chenal was 0.07 back for France’s second medal of the Olympics, and Austria’s Hermann Maier boosted his personal take to two medals with the bronze, 0.16 off the pace.

Until yesterday, Raich was having his own problems at Sestriere.

He wasn’t picked for Austria’s downhill squad, straddled a gate when he was seconds from gold in the combined and was 21st in the super-G. Still, he said he felt no extra pressure.

“I do not have to prove to anybody anymore that I know ski racing,” said Raich, who won two bronze medals at Salt Lake City four years ago.

About an hour after he and Maier won gold and bronze, Austria raised its Alpine haul to nine medals when Michaela Dorfmeister and Alexandra Meissnitzer finished 1-3 in the women’s super-G, a few mountains away.

Meanwhile, the United States is stuck on one medal: Ted Ligety’s gold in the men’s combined. He’ll be among the favorites in Saturday’s slalom, the last Alpine event and Miller’s last medal hope.

Ligety missed a gate in the giant slalom’s first leg, as did Miller’s co-headliner on the U.S. Ski Team, lower-key Daron Rahlves.

Owner of 12 World Cup wins and a 2001 world title, Rahlves was thought to be a serious medal contender at his final Olympics. Yet the 32-year-old Californian will retire with nothing better than a seventh-place finish from seven races over three Winter Games.

“I really felt like we had a chance, where we could bring medals back down in every event. I’m just shaking my head at it right now,” Rahlves said. “If you get a gold medal in the Olympics, it doesn’t matter what else you’ve done.”

Miller, one of the few stars from any nation entered in all five Alpine races, leaves little doubt he doesn’t share that philosophy.

Over and over, he’s said it’s more important whether he feels good about a race than whether he was good enough to beat everybody else. He calls satisfying “my subjective criteria” his biggest concern, rather than the “objective result” measured by the clock. It’s more true to the Olympic spirit, he’s said.

“He’s of the mind-set he wants to inspire with great skiing, and he’s not really focused on the results,” said U.S. Alpine director Jesse Hunt.

His father, Woody, had a different take, saying Miller’s attitude is more like “What am I going to do with a gold medal?”

“He has this ambivalence with succeeding,” the elder Miller said, sitting in the stands at yesterday’s race. “It’s part of who he is.”

As a double silver medalist at the 2002 Olympics, and the reigning overall World Cup champion, Miller was burdened by outsized expectations, despite the way his 2005-06 season had gone before arriving in Sestriere: 27 races, 17 finished, one victory.