KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Lowering his head, then crouching in a corner, Bode Miller lingered in the finish area after his slower-than-expected Olympic downhill run, contemplating where things might have gone wrong.
Most everyone, Miller included, thought he was the man to beat entering Sunday’s race.
Most everyone, the 36-year-old American included, thought he had a realistic shot at becoming the oldest Alpine gold medalist in Winter Games history.
Didn’t even come close. Failing to produce the sort of near-perfect performance he came up with in practice, Miller finished eighth in the downhill, more than a half-second slower than champion Matthias Mayer of Austria.
“This can be a tough one to swallow today, having skied so well in the training runs, and then come in and be way out of the medals,” said Miller, who was born in New Hampshire, attended Carrabassett Valley Academy and now is based in California.
“But I think I skied really well, honestly. I was super-aggressive,” he added. “The conditions didn’t favor me today, but I think, all things considered, I skied really well.”
Not nearly well enough. Still, Miller only would concede that he made “a few little mistakes the whole way down, but nothing that really should have cost me much time.”
He had the fastest times on two of the three training days, when the sky was blue and sunlight draped the snow. On Sunday, a cloud cover made it tougher to see, and Miller pointed to that as a key factor.
“I don’t have as much tolerance for not being able to see the snow. I need to know where the snow is,” Miller explained. “The beginning of the turn, middle of the turn, I need to know where the little bumps are, because I’m right on the edge.”
In addition to the lower visibility, he said the snow in the middle of the course was softer when he raced as the 15th starter than when Mayer was the 11th man down the hill.
All week, he was by far the best racer at the top of the course, building up advantages that allowed him to overcome being slower in the lower sections.
When it mattered more, Miller was not nearly as clean at the outset, and by the end, he was not in the tightest of tucks, giving away precious time.
Miller wasn’t even the top American. Travis Ganong finished a surprising fifth, better than he’s ever done in a World Cup race.
“Ski racing is such a fickle sport. It’s a matter of hundredths and tenths of a second after skiing 2, 3 miles down a 3,000-vertical-foot hill,” Ganong said. “There are so many bumps, so many rolls, so many tough little sections. There are so many variables. You can’t have a perfect run.”
Miller definitely did not.
He’s a two-time overall World Cup champion, and he already owns a U.S.-record five Olympic Alpine medals, including three from Vancouver in 2010.
After needing left knee surgery two years ago, Miller sat out all of last season with an eye to being fit for the Olympics. And he was not shy about saying he really wanted to win Sunday.
“This is the premier event,” he said, “and it’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit.”
U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick’s take?
“Bode wanted it too much,” Rearick said.
There are more races to come at the Sochi Games, of course — the downhill was the first of five events for the men — and Miller already was thinking ahead.
He was asked what went through his mind in those quiet moments after he completed the course.
“Going back through the run, seeing if I’d make changes, if I blew it, if I did something stupid. In this case, I didn’t,” he said. “I just had to steel myself for the rest.”