"What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." If there is a silver lining to the disappointing run for Bode Miller in the men's downhill final at the Sochi Olympics, it's that the Russian course didn't in fact kill him.
Something tells me a silver lining, especially one like that, does not feel as good as a gold medal might. Unfortunately for Miller, mistakes on the icy downhill trail pulled him far out of medal contention in the marquee Alpine event, finishing a disappointing eighth by race's end.
There is no silver lining in losing when you enter the final as the favorite.
Much like his Olympic career, Miller had a fascinatingly turbulent experience on the men's downhill this week. After training on Saturday, Miller looked like a clear favorite in the event, well out ahead of the field as he carved up the competition. He won two of the three training runs, setting a course record in his third time down the hill on Saturday.
And yet, the ever-outspoken Miller made more news for his comments after the training than his pace on the slopes, telling reporters, via Yahoo! Sports' Charles Robinson:
It is so damn fast and the snow is so hard that you don't want to sacrifice edge pressure and grip on the snow for aerodynamics. …If you are not totally focused, this course can kill you. It is one of those courses where I don't think you are safe going easy.
So at least there's that. Live another day, as it were. Sadly, for the 36-year old Miller, living another day in skiing terms provides little solace in what will almost certainly be the last Olympic downhill competition of his career.
Miller is one of the most decorated American Winter Olympians in history, this being his fifth Games. He excels on the slopes and has five medals in his Olympic career, including a gold in the Super Combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games. But he had never finished better than third—also at Vancouver—in the men's downhill.
The former world champion had a chance to finally, after all these years, bring home a downhill gold in Sochi. After Saturday's training runs, it looked like things were meant to be, via Bill Pennington of The New York Times:
Aksel Lund Svindal, who came to Russia as the race favorite, was second and humbly conceded that Miller was the one to beat in the downhill competition early Sunday.
“Is Bode the favorite?” Svindal said. “I think so. He’s been the best skier on the mountain. Me and maybe three other guys can beat him tomorrow. But we’ll see.”
We'll see indeed. Neither Miller nor Svindal won, or even medaled, in the men's downhill, with the title going instead to 23-year old Austrian Matthias Mayer. Christof Innerhofer of Italy and Kjetil Jansrud of Norway took silver and bronze, respectively, while American Travis Ganong finished fifth.
Early in his run during Sunday's final, Miller looked to be in great position to medal, or even win. He was well ahead of the early pace through the first two intervals, besting Mayer's splits by more than a quarter of a second, which in a sport where the difference between gold and bronze was one-tenth of a second, seemed like a lifetime.
And then, disaster.
Well, not "this course could kill you" disaster, but disaster in a more relative sense.
Bode! One gate and the speed was gone... that's racing. Exciting downhill up there! – Julia Mancuso, 9 Feb 2014
Miller had fallen to +0.02 through the third interval, still in medal contention based on his time, but all his speed had been sapped. The chances of making up time waned as he continued down the hill, unable to recover from the midrace slip.
Miller fell far enough back as he hit the final interval that he lost nearly an entire second to the leaders through the middle of the course, finishing in two minutes, 6.75 seconds (+0.52 behind Mayer).
What a difference one mistake can make. What a difference one day can make.
It's odd, in a way, that a skier who has five Olympic medals, four World Championship victories and two overall World Cup titles could soon look back on an amazing skiing career and wonder what could have been had a few more things gone his way.
The men's downhill in Sochi was the 16th Olympic event of Miller's career, and while winning a medal in nearly one-third of all the events he has entered is amazing, there is an overwhelming sense of disappointment that has followed his Olympic journey.
Nothing can be more disappointing* than this result in the men's downhill. Not after the training runs. Not after the other riders looked at him as the Sochi favorite.
(*Note: Forgive the flair for dramatic on that one. Surely Torino was more disappointing for Miller who, in his prime at the time, finished no better than fifth in five entered events during the 2006 Olympics.)
There were no silver linings on Sunday, other than the fact nobody died. (Yes, there was that, which is obviously important.) While Miller's pre-race comments had his signature flair for the dramatic, he couldn't back that up on the course when it mattered the most.
For Miller, as disappointing as the downhill run must be, his Olympic flame has a little more fire left in it. He needs to hope the loss in the downhill will only make him stronger. At least for one more event.
Later this week, Miller will compete in the Super Combined, the event he won in Vancouver four years ago. If there is in fact a silver lining to the disappointment of losing the downhill, Miller hopes it comes in the form of gold on Friday.