Published February 20, 2010
WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — U.S. Ski Team men's coach Sasha Rearick was talking about the "focus" and "effort" of his racers at these Olympics, earnestly insisting he never thought about how well they'd do.
Suddenly, his two-way radio crackled with a report from somewhere in the field:
Hardly mattered who was on the other end. It's been one big celebration for the Americans, who are dominating Alpine skiing, with six medals in the first four races.
"Letting go of the attachment to the result, and just skiing that inspired way, is what's helping us so much," Bode Miller explained Friday after taking the silver in the super-G behind winner Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. "You're seeing a level of skiing out of the U.S. team that we haven't put down in a long time. Or ever."
Those last two words are precisely right.
With six events still on tap, beginning with the women's super-G on Saturday, the United States already had collected its most Alpine medals at a single Winter Games, topping the five at Sarajevo in 1984. Norway is the only other country with more than one medal, thanks entirely to Svindal, who also got a silver in the downhill.
After he was joined on Friday's podium by Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid, N.Y., who earned the bronze, Miller was asked to explain why the Americans have been so good.
Miller smiled that here-comes-a-good-one smile of his and began, "Aside from the fact that we're just much better than everybody else ..."
Leave it to Miller to bring a little trash talk to Alpine skiing.
Can't really argue with the guy.
While two-time reigning World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn was pegged to collect multiple medals at Whistler, no other U.S. skiers distinguished themselves enough in the leadup to generate much buzz.
So much for that.
Vonn won a gold in downhill, Miller earned a bronze plus his silver to become the first U.S. Alpine skier with four career Olympic medals, Julia Mancuso won two silvers, and the undersized and unheralded Weibrecht finally climbed on a podium after only once before finishing as high as 10th in a significant race.
"If you don't watch ski racing every weekend, you might miss my name," Weibrecht deadpanned. "It definitely feels good to establish myself."
If all of that's not enough, Miller and Weibrecht were the first American men since twins Phil and Steve Mahre in 1984 to win medals in the same Alpine event — that after Vonn and Mancuso doubled up in the women's downhill.
"I don't think anyone was expecting this," said Marco Sullivan, who was 23rd Friday. "It was 'The Lindsey Vonn Show' coming in, and now it's turned into 'The U.S. Ski Team Show' — and it's really cool."
So back to the question Miller was posed: Why?
There's no clear answer.
Could be as simple as early success breeding more success.
"It's definitely inspiring having Julia and Lindsey and Bode all doing really well to start the Olympics," said Weibrecht, who at 5-foot-6 barely comes up to Svindal's shoulders.
It could be the Americans' newfangled polyester-knit body suits — the ones with no real texture or seams to reduce wind drag. Then again, the Canadians were outfitted with the same special duds, and the best the host country has produced is a pair of fifth-place finishes by Erik Guay.
Or maybe it could be an extension of the long tradition of American skiers peaking at the right time, a history that includes such surprise gold medalists as Bill Johnson in 1984, Tommy Moe in 1994, and Ted Ligety and Mancuso herself in 2006.
"We're at the Olympic Games. This is the big show," U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association CEO Bill Marolt said. "Our kids love to compete in the big show."
That certainly wasn't the case for Miller four years ago, when he headed to Turin as the center of attention. Owner of two silver medals from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, he was supposed to add to that.
Instead, Miller failed to finish or was disqualified in three of five races. He drew more headlines for his late-night partying than his skiing, and no one could be sure what to expect from the 32-year-old this time around.
He skipped the final four stops of the 2008-09 World Cup season and contemplated retirement, hanging out at the beach in California and spending time with his 1-year-old daughter. The time away from the sport he's loved for decades — he didn't even have any skis or boots, he said — helped him get a fresh feel. It also didn't hurt that he now has fewer demands on his time from sponsors and the media.
Most of all, Miller said, he is skiing well now because he is "inspired" — by teammates, by competitors, by his own drive to turn in a "pure" run.
"I've been a really strong big-event skier since I was little. All the big events, I've always done well in — when I decide that's what I want to do," he said with a chuckle. "The notable exception was that stretch between Torino and now. I've always said that I'm not that interested in results, and I think that showed in that stretch."
Ever his own man, Miller opted to use longer and heavier downhill skis in the super-G to allow himself to be more aggressive in the icy turns on the upper part of the course, even though he knew the exertion spent making it through there would sap his energy by the bottom. His calculation, essentially, was that he would be fast enough early to make up for what happened late. That's exactly what happened.
"He doesn't train all summer, he comes back and wins two medals. Only Bode can do it," said Liechtenstein's Marco Buechel, competing at his sixth Olympics. "If I wouldn't train all summer and come back, I would crash every second gate. His way of skiing is unique. His talent is immense."
Miller has always maintained that medals don't matter. Still, let's give him the last word about the record-breaking U.S. performance at Whistler.
After his wisecrack about how much better his team is than any other country's, Miller discussed the "connection" that's been established among his "tight group" of teammates.
"Once that momentum starts, everyone starts to want that more. They race really aggressively," he explained, "but with their heart, too."