WHISTLER, British Columbia – Maybe it’s because his mom is here watching, but Bad Bode has morphed into Good Bode at these 2010 Winter Olympics.
Bode Miller, the talented, free-spirited American who disappointed and misbehaved at the 2006 Games in Italy, has been a reborn skier and a perfect guest in Canada.
Miller won a second medal here Friday, improving on the downhill bronze he captured earlier with a silver in the super-G on a spectacularly sunny day at Whistler Creekside. Fellow American Andrew Weibrecht took the bronze, giving the U.S. a seventh multiple-medal event at these games.
They were both beaten by Norwegian veteran Aksel Lund Svindal, who sped down an icy course, which one Canadian skier termed “a hockey rink with a 45-degree slope,” in 1 minute, 30.34 seconds, .28 seconds quicker than Miller’s daring dash.
And when Svindal crossed the finish line, it was this new, mellower Miller who applauded his rival’s accomplishment and, later, gave the victor a big bear hug. It was a different look for Miller who was the ugly American at Turin, partying late, dissing reporters and both fizzling and fuming on the slopes.
“I’m older now,” he said, “a little more mature.”
Admittedly nervous before Sunday’s downhill, perhaps because he knew the redemption he sought would not come easily, Miller said he was calm and relaxed before the super-G, which combines the speed of a downhill and the turns of a giant slalom.
“The feeling I had was like I felt coming into the Olympics, like I had the right stuff,” Miller said. “It was great. Everything felt real good. I skied really aggressive.”
Miller’s somewhat surprising success here has made this – with several events to go – the most successful Olympics for American skiers.
The six medals they’ve won top the record five they amassed at Sarajevo in 1984. And Miller’s four – with 2002 silvers in giant slalom and super combined, he’s medaled in four different events – now rank him No. 1 all time among U.S. skiers.
“It’s like a chain reaction,” Weinbrecht said of this U.S. team’s success. “One guy on the team has a good day and that makes everyone else feel more confident, more relaxed, more competitive.”
The relatively unknown Weibrecht, 24, who was the third skier down the course in the field of 64, had never finished higher than 10th in a World Cup race.
“I don’t think I’ve ever come down leading a race,” said Weibrecht, a Dartmouth student from Lake Placid, N.Y. “I figured I might hang in there until 10 guys came down. But I kept hanging in there. … I knew deep down I could do it because I’ve been knocking on the door all year. I feel kind of beyond belief.”
Svindal, 27, had been the World Cup champion in this event a year ago. But a knee injury and illness greatly reduced his schedule this season.
“I’ve had to work really hard to get back to this point,” said Svindal, who finished ahead of Miller in the downhill, too, winning a silver. Switzerland’s Didier Defago, 15th Friday, was the downhill winner.
“At the start of this race I was thinking, ‘You already have a silver and it can only get better. So enjoy yourself and give it everything you can. Don’t hold back,’ ” Svindal said.
Miller did the same. He started boldly and, arms churning, skis twisting, flashed through the 44 gates on the 1.3-mile course in his typical go-for-broke style.
“I knew I had to be fast on the top and just hang on,” Miller said. “I slowed down a little down at the bottom, but not as much as I did in the downhill.”
The track was made lightning quick by water officials had injected into it overnight in an effort to get a more even, more consistent surface, and it was veterans such as Miller and Svindal who seemed to handle it more effectively than their younger counterparts, several of whom crashed.
Starting eight spots after Miller, Svindal trailed the American’s first-place time by .30 seconds at the first checkpoint. He moved barely ahead by the halfway point and extended his edge in the lower portion of the course, an area several skiers found slow.
It was anything but slow higher up. Patrik Jaerbyn, a 40-year-old Swede, went head over heels after catching a gate with a ski and skidded helplessly before a protective gate stopped him. Seemingly unconscious at first, he was carried away on a toboggan and then helicoptered to a nearby hospital.
“He has a mild concussion and some amnesia from the fall, but there’s no signs of injury to the spine,” Swedish team doctor Per Liljeholm told reporters.
Favorite Didier Cuche of Switzerland was 10th. The highest finisher among the ballyhooed Austrians was Mario Scheiber in 20th.
The two other U.S. skiers, Ted Ligety and Marco Sullivan, finished 19th and 23rd respectively.