WHISTLER, British Columbia – Bode Miller finally won his elusive gold medal, using a blistering slalom run Sunday to complete one of the most unlikely Olympic comebacks ever.

Four years after bombing out amid lofty expectations at the Turin Games and a year after practically walking away from the sport, the New Hampshire native and former Carrabassett Valley Academy skier won the super-combined for his third medal in as many events at Vancouver.

Seventh after the morning downhill run, Miller skied the third-fastest afternoon slalom leg for a two-run time of 2 minutes, 44.92 seconds — a comfortable 0.33 ahead of Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, who matched his silver medal from four year ago in Turin. Silvan Zurbriggen of Switzerland claimed bronze, 0.40 back.

For a guy who has insisted that medals aren’t important, this one clearly was special to Miller.

”The way I executed, the way I skied, is something I’ll be proud of the rest of my life,” Miller said.

”I skied with 100 percent heart — I didn’t hold anything back. … It’s just awesome. There’s nothing else to say.”

Having skipped summer training while he debated retiring, Miller nearly didn’t have enough energy to hold on as he came over the final pitch of the slalom course.

”My legs started feeling really wobbly,” he said. ”I didn’t even feel like I was looking at the gate anymore.”

Miller has also won a silver and a bronze at the Vancouver Games — a sharp contrast from his no-medal performance in Turin.

Miller said he was running on ”fumes” following his first two races, the downhill and the super-G.

”I felt awesome about it,” he said. ”But still, it’s incredibly emotionally exhausting to do it like that.

”I’ve got one leg that’s injured and another leg that’s on my boat already,” he added, looking forward to his postseason vacation.

Miller and Kostelic were 1-2 when downhill leader Aksel Lund Svindal came down, and when the big Norwegian failed to complete his slalom leg, Miller had the gold medal that had eluded him since he burst onto the scene at Salt Lake City in 2002.

”I figured they both had really good runs, so I couldn’t hold back,” Svindal said. ”I had to attack it if I had any chance to get that gold.”

Miller was faster than Svindal on the upper section of the downhill run, but acknowledged a series of mistakes on the lower part. Still, having begun his career as a slalom specialist, he wasn’t counting himself out and charged all the way down in the second leg.

Miller increased his lead at both checkpoints in the slalom. He skied fluidly on the top, then started to get bounced up in the air as he tried to maintain his speed on the quicker gates in the lower section, just barely making one gate after another.

He dropped some speed before the finish but maintained enough to beat Kostelic.

Miller called the second half of his slalom run ”a joke.”

”I don’t know how I got those last 15 gates through the finish,” he said. ”It was literally just willpower, because my legs were completely shot.”

The last of Miller’s five World Cup slalom wins came more than five years ago, and he has been searching since then to rediscover his form in the discipline.

This run should satisfy him.

Miller let out a big smile upon crossing the finish line and stuck out his tongue while the crowd roared its approval.

”Slalom in my mind is the toughest event,” Miller said. ”When you ski slalom well, it’s the best event there is. When you ski it poorly, it’s the worst event there is.”

What’s more, Miller managed to survive a slalom course set by Kostelic’s father and coach, Ante, who is known for his tricky sets.

”I think slalom skiers for sure wouldn’t have a great chance if the slalom course was simple,” Ivica Kostelic said. ”The setting was quite demanding, but not as demanding as it could be. But demanding enough so that the slalom skiers could make up time.”

Along with his father, Kostelic shared the moment with older sister Janica, who won the combined at the past two Olympics, then retired.

”We’ve been together all of our lives,” Ivica Kostelic said. ”I think it’s fair that we share this moment together as well. Dad’s course certainly helped.”

Carlo Janka of Switzerland finished fourth and Ted Ligety, the American who won the combined in Turin, finished fifth despite posting the fastest slalom run.

When Ligety won four years ago, the combined used the traditional format of one downhill run and two slalom legs. With only one slalom run now, the new format doesn’t favor Ligety as much, and he had too much ground to make up after placing 15th in the downhill.

Still, Ligety was pleased to have Miller replace him as Olympic champion — adding to his four world championship golds in four different disciplines.

”He’s been really motivated,” Ligety said. ”It’s cool to really see him win an Olympic gold. That’s what’s been missing from his resume.”

In another stellar day for the U.S. team, Will Brandenburg posted the second-fastest slalom run and finished 10th overall in his Olympic debut. The Spokane, Wash., resident did not finish the only four World Cup races he has entered, and he crashed in downhill training Saturday.

Miller won two silvers at Salt Lake City and opened these games by taking bronze in the downhill and silver in the super-G. With five medals for his career, he is tied with Italy’s Alberto Tomba and Norway’s Lasse Kjus for second on the all-time Alpine list for men, trailing only the eight by Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway.

The three medals in Vancouver match the record for most by a man in Alpine skiing at a single Olympics. Aamodt won two silvers and a bronze at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, Jean-Claude Killy swept all three events held at the 1968 Grenoble Games — downhill, slalom and giant slalom — and Toni Sailer did the same at Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956.

Miller’s only World Cup victory this season or last came last month in a super-combined in Wengen, Switzerland.

”The super-combined is tailor-made for Bode,” Ligety said. ”He’s one of the best downhill skiers in the world and he shows moments of brilliance in slalom. He did that today.”


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