By Alan Baldwin
WHISTLER (Reuters) - Bode Miller turned on the slalom style on Sunday to win the super combined event and, in the twilight of his career, complete his set of Olympic medals with a first gold.
The 32-year-old American, who had taken a silver in super-G and bronze in downhill earlier in the week, knew he would never have a better chance and threw everything at it.
After beating Ivica Kostelic into second place, on a tricky course set by the Croatian's father Ante, Miller had to wait for tall Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal to make a mistake before the celebrations could begin.
Svindal, who had led after the downhill part, pushed too hard and skied out.
A roar went up from the 6,143 strong crowd lining the course, many waving stars and stripes flags, as Miller finally struck gold -- and his fifth Olympic Alpine medal -- in his fourth Games.
"I skied my ass off," gasped Miller, the words gushing out of his mouth in a rapid flow to match the third fastest slalom time of the day.
"I dug deep," he added. "I was so tired. This was probably my best chance to win, but it took a huge amount of mental stamina.
"To execute the race the way I did today is something I will be proud of for the rest of my life.
"I knew I had a great run going, but I don't know how I got those last 15 gates through to the finish. It was just willpower. My legs were completely shot. On a run like that, you're functioning on inspiration and willpower."
Switzerland's Silvan Zurbriggen, a distant relative of former Olympic champion Pirmin, took bronze on a day of bright sunshine, gleaming pistes and equally brilliant skiing.
Miller had finished the downhill part in seventh place after a mistake and, with a daunting 0.76 seconds to make up, needed something special to complete his transformation from the flop of 2006 to become the first U.S. skier to win five medals.
He did his best and Svindal did the rest.
The last of the leaders out of the start hut, the newly-crowned super-G champion's bid for a second gold, and third medal, of the Games disappear when he lost his rhythm and skied out.
"It happens, it's part of the Games," he said. "No-one wins anything by being safe. In slalom you can't defend anything, you just have to get after it."
Kostelic, the brother of retired multiple gold medalist Janica, was delighted to repeat his Turin silver and happy for Miller.
"I think that we are witnessing a great moment because he is a skier obviously at the end of his career, skiing without any pressure," he said.
"He knows what his goal is and he's ready enough and willing enough to reach these goals. I am really happy for him."
(Additional reporting by Simon Evans and Patrick Vignal)
(Editing by Ed Osmond)