WHISTLER, British Columbia -- They stood on a victory platform placed in the crusty snow at the bottom of the race run at Whistler Creekside. In the middle was
Flanking Svindal were two U.S. skiers, silver medalist
Now they are sharing in what might soon be the best Olympic performance in the history of the U.S. skiing. Their two-three finish in the super-G gave the U.S. six Alpine medals in just four events, more than in any previous Olympics. That doesn't make it an obvious call: Team USA won one fewer Alpine medal in Sarajevo in 1984, but three of those were gold and two were silver. Here, the tally is one gold, three silver and two bronze with six events remaining.
On the individual level, Miller took the lead in his battle with
Miller is also making history in a broader sense. With his silver in super-G, he joins Norway's
It is difficult to nail down how the U.S. became so dominant so suddenly. U.S. Ski Team president
It was this moment that Miller recalled after his silver when he said, "[U.S. racers] want to come across the line, and they want to kick their feet like Julia did."
Success in any sport depends on technical and organizational elements, in addition to pure physical ability. But there's also an emotional or spiritual element -- or whatever phrase applies to lying in the snow kicking ski boots at the blue sky. Miller has spent most of his career tossing around the word "inspirational" in alternately instructive and exasperating ways. He would sometimes miss the podium and explain that his skiing was nevertheless "inspirational."
Miller left the team last March, disinterested not only in his own skiing, but in that of his teammates and opponents. "I was pointing the finger at everyone else," said Miller. "Saying that this was not the level of skiing that we should be putting out there. I didn't think people were taking the risks, I didn't think people were skiing with the heart that skiing needs, and that was 100 percent including myself."
Then he came back in September. Unlike the previous two years (2008 and '09), when he had run his own independent program, he rejoined the U.S. ski team, immediately becoming its oldest member. In the likes of Weibrecht he found some of that inspiration he sought, and the young skiers found it in Miller as well. The mix is impossible to measure, except to say that it seems to be working.
Miller has told Weibrecht and several other young races on the team about his World Cup and Olympic experiences. "He's been a huge asset," says Weibrecht. "He's been through all of this, and he understands the whole system, what it takes to be on this level. He's been really helpful."
Before the season began, Weibrecht explained that Miller had even taken to slowing down some of his famously hurried pre-race inspections to show Weibrecht the finer points on some of the World Cup downhill courses. "I always heard how Bode inspects really fast," said Weibrecht in November, "but he took the time to show me things, and it was incredibly valuable." Weibrecht also noted that
After finishing third yesterday, in a race where places two through five were separated by just .05 of a second, Weibrecht was enthralled by his presence on the podium. "To be in the company of Aksel and Bode, in any race," Weibrecht said, "is pretty awesome."
The effect of Weibrecht's generation on Miller is a little more difficult to pinpoint. The older racers on the U.S. team call Weibrecht, a ball of muscle who grew up in Lake Placid and raced on gnarly Adirondack ice on Whiteface Mountain (experience that he feels helped him here), "War Horse."
Why? "Because he only knows one speed," says 29-year-old
The last gifted, young U.S. skier to whom that description was applied was: Miller. And while Miller tends to frame analysis through his own personal prism, he understands the comparison. "Andrew goes really hard," said Miller Thursday. "And he makes a ton of mistakes."
Miller made a ton of mistakes, and he was criticized for them. But now he says he recalls his crashes and his failures to finish with great joy (really), and he has tried to convey that joy to Weibrecht. This is the way Miller put it: "When he hears me go back and reflect on the 150 or 200, whatever, World Cups where I've crashed or gone out or blown leads and looked back on those with nothing but fondness and appreciation, that gives him some insight into the good side of racing with your heart."
If the young U.S. racers have learned the ropes from having Miller around, they have shown him no love in training or racing. "They're getting after him," U.S. men's head coach
We are seeing a different Miller at these Games than we have seen in years. "He's been very happy and very relaxed," said his father,
Miller's downhill bronze was the medal that began this Alpine onslaught. He said it was a performance that it was about the team, and not just about him. There was cause for skepticism at the time, but not anymore. It really is about the team.