February 15, 2010

WHISTLER, British Columbia (SI.com) -- Bode Miller, the U.S.' best hope for Olympic medals in Alpine skiing, held on to capture bronze on Monday in the men's downhill. But it was Switzerland's surprising gold-medal winner Didier Défago who stole the show.

Défago made no mistakes in a stellar run of 1 minute, 54.31 seconds. It was the Swiss' first downhill gold since Pirmin Zurbriggen won in Calgary in 1988. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway finished second, 0.07 seconds behind.

"It is one of the most beautiful days of my life," Defago said. "I knew I would do well but I never expected to do this well."

Miller finished in third place with a time of 1:54.40 seconds, just .09 second behind Défago.

The 32-year-old Miller is the most decorated American Alpine skier ever, with 32 World Cup victories. He is remembered best for his 2006 Olympic flameout, but he "un-retired'' in September and has steadily improved throughout the World Cup season. He is considered a threat to win -- or crash -- in all five races in Vancouver.

This is Miller's third career Olympic medal. He won two silvers in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, finishing second in both the giant slalom and in combined.

"It was fun. It was really tough. It was really nervous this morning," Miller said. "Once I got going I felt really really solid. It was hard for me to push without making mistakes. I skied really well at the top but I was pushing too hard"

Défago, meanwhile, had never won a medal at an Olympics or world championship. At 32 years and four months, he became the oldest men's downhill winner in Olympic history.

"A medal had to come eventually for me," Defago said.

Switzerland's Didier Cuche, the pre-race favorite and SI's pick for gold, finished 0.36 seconds behind Défago-- out of medal contention. Another American, Marco Sullivan crashed toward the bottom of the course but appeared to be OK. He finished the race.

Competition finally began after poor weather and snow conditions forced two days of delay. The course was affected by temperatures that were consistently well above freezing, mixed with snow, rain and fog.

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