Olympics 2010: Bode Wins Bronze in Downhill

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Does a bronze medal spell redemption? Does a first-place finish in Monday’s training run mean Lindsey Vonn is sufficiently recovered from her painful shin injury in advance of Wednesday women’s downhill. And is the notorious Whistler weather finally about to give race organizers a break? Yes, we think, on all three.

Bode Miller, running eighth, knifed the top half of the Dave Murray downhill, then held on for a bronze medal in Tuesday’s marquee event, the men’s downhill. Didier Defago of Switzerland edged Miller for the gold by a mere 9 hundredths of a second, and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway squeaked in just 2 hundredths ahead of the enigmatic American to steal the silver. The race lived up to its billing as an exciting event, with a Top 15 pack of finishers separated by less than a second.

It’s easy to imagine that the flat light Miller endured during his run made the difference between gold and bronze. The American is known to have trouble with poor light, and later runners enjoyed significantly better visibility, with a sun shining just strong enough to cast shadows. He becomes the first American ever to win three Olympic medals.

Does that constitute redemption for the bad-boy of Torino (who, we must recall, was only 9 hundredths away from bronze in that downhill)? Miller has appeared more relaxed and less confrontational in the early days of the game, and he was clearly pleased with his result Tuesday. “I was happy with the way I skied,” he said after the race. “Obviously it would’ve been great to be a little faster. I was psyched. I skied hard.”

His performance surely speaks well of his chances in the men’s Super Combined, scheduled for today. But that will have to wait. More snowfall postponed the event.

Defago scored a victory for old guys everywhere, becoming the oldest skier to win an Olympic downhill (four months older than 1998 Nagano winner Jean-Luc Cretier).  It was the first downhill gold for the resurgent Swiss since Pirmin Zurbriggen’s 1988 Calgary win. The .09 second margin between first and third is tighest ever in Olympic downhill history. Miller becomes just the third American ever to medal in the downhill. That’s right, Bill Johnson, Tommy Moe, Miller … and nobody else.

Now all eyes turn to the skies above Whistler, which are expected clear for a significant number of days, giving organizers a chance to get the alpine events back on track. Vonn hasn’t been one to complain about gray skies and rain: Every day of postponed downhill training was a day of reprieve for her shin. It apparently felt well enough on Monday, when she was a surprisingly first-place finisher in the shortened morning training run. And that bodes well for tomorrow’s race, the women’s downhill.

Tonight’s forecast calls for freezing temperatures top-to-bottom at Whistler, so the track should be in good shape. On Wednesday, morning clouds should give way to afternoon sun. Sunshine prevails through Saturday, though warm temperatures might continue to make things a little sloppy.